Mike Sullivan. You took over this team on December 13, 2015. You replaced the dull, math-teacher-look-alike other Mike. You seemed to have found things that worked and pushed you on two big winning strides. You only helped orchestrate winning 14 of the last 16 regular season games and 7 out of a total of 10 playoff games. But in game 5 on Saturday night in Washington, you left many, including myself, wondering what the hell you were doing.
I am a big believer that Mike Sullivan is the man qualified to coach the Penguins franchise to hopefully another new coach Stanley Cup. But seriously, what the hell was he doing Saturday night?
Obviously Sullivan’s team played a very good Washington Capitals team. You opposed a Jack Adams finalist in Barry Trotz. It makes me terribly mad that you weren’t nominated, although you didn’t show that kind of praise worthy coaching Saturday night.
Let’s start with the big issue here: Why did Patric Hornqvist play all of two shifts in the third period? You read that correctly…TWO.
We watched as Sullivan employed a Sheary-Crosby-Hagelin line to begin the third period. I’m not at all opposed to that one. You get speed in all three with the playmaking ability of Crosby and the chemistry Sheary and Sid have shown is pretty awesome. Add in Hagelin’s seemingly unmatchable speed and that makes for a deadly combination.
Then, next shift, he replaced Hagelin with Tom Kuhnhackl. No disrespect to young Tommy Kuhnhackl, but he is not to be playing with Crosby.
Crosby has a specific type of player he enjoys playing with, the description of which Kuhnhackl doesn’t ideally fit. Patric Hornqvist is that guy that Crosby likes to play with. Sullivan loves Hornqvist. Crosby loves Hornqvist. Everyone and their mother likes Hornqvist. Well on this night, Sullivan didn’t like Hornqvist.
After the game had concluded, this was Sullivan’s response when asked if Hornqvist had been injured at any point.
“No. We just shortened the bench. We went with guys with energy and were going…”
Yikes. I’d like a full explanation on what energy is if Patric Hornqvist isn’t a prime example of it. I thought he was. I wasn’t happy with this decision or explanation at all. It left no net front presence. It lacked that head down, hard nosed grinder that caused havoc for opposing players and got into the minds of opposing goalies.
To me, I was boggled by the fact that Chris Kunitz, the lone goal scorer for the Penguins in Saturday nights contest, was taken off of the powerplay.
As many of you know I’m not a huge Kunitz supporter. He scored the only goal and it came on the power play and was the net front guy on the top power play. Next thing you know, Sullivan and the rest of his staff pulled a magic trick and vanished Kunitz.
Many questionable decisions were made by the coaching staff in Saturday night’s game. For the first time in Sullivan’s tenure, it was clear he was out coached. Does that mean I’m calling for his resignation papers? No. Everyone is going to have bad nights. It’s going to be vital to not mismanage your players in these next two (hopefully only one more) game(s).
I’m a pretty firm believer in that whole “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” persona. It’s a pretty simple formula. If something isn’t broke, why spend the extra unnecessary time and effort on fixing it?
I’ll ask him again, obviously rhetorically: Mr. Sullivan, what the hell were you doing?
P. S. This includes the goalie situation, too. Matt Murray is not broke. Marc-Andre Fleury simply isn’t ready to be thrust into a game 6, even with the home crowd behind him. That decision is simple.