Coach Mike Sullivan might only have near the same amount of time behind the bench as a head coach as Connor McDavid has playing in the NHL, but he’s shown the wisdom of a tenured coach like Joel Quenneville or Mike Babcock. Just like what these 2 men already obtained, Sullivan is trying to join them as a multi-time Stanley Cup winning coach.
Make no mistake about it, Sullivan has earned his stripes and is just as responsible for the Penguins getting this far as any player on the ice.
Years of being an assistant coach taught him how to be a general right there, commanding respect even when he does something unpopular that might get questioning from some fans, even if its the right move.
Inserting Matt Murray in goal for games 4 and 5 put him under fire by many (though I agreed with the move) but that’s exactly what the Pens needed, a spark that would turn into a fire. You can’t argue with the results since the move, a must win on the road followed by a 7-0 blowout, Sullivan created some change.
There could of been many 2nd guessers based on how great Marc-Andre Fleury had played so far these playoffs, but Sullivan stuck to his gut and went with his guy Matt Murray. None of the nay sayers are saying anything now.
It goes much further than just the goalie situation, Sullivan has evolved the team from game to game and series to series, shuffling lines around without hesitation to make the Penguins squad better. That meant sitting guys who have been staples of the team we have come to know and love. Now sometimes the moves he made were forced because of injury, but that doesn’t mean he’s pieced together some wonderful things.
Look at the line with center Nick Bonino being thrown along with Bryan Rust and Carter Rowney, they might have been the most dominant line in game 5, but it was Sullivan who put them together. He’s learned when to keep a nice line going and when to tweak it around for proper filling.
Josh Archibald has made a positive impact since being called upon to play his role, that meant sitting players like Tom Kuhnhackle (even before he got hurt) and Connor Sheary, guys who have helped all year. Sullivan learned early and often that you can’t please everyone, it’s about winning and not other’s feelings.
They’re not done either, there’s still some wins to go and I bet we will still see some more changes made. Whether that’s calling up another winger or dressing 1 more defenseman because of a Chad Ruhwedel injury, Mike Sullivan will get it done. He isn’t afraid to make any choice no matter the preference on the move.
No player or team does it alone, Sullivan’s made great decisions on a team that’s been worn thin by sidelined players, but he still needs the Evgeni Malkin’s and Phil Kessel’s of the world to contribute. Those great players still need the right coach, Sullivan has fit that bill so far in his 2016 and now 2017 playoff durations, though they’re not finished yet!