Mike Sullivan has now been behind the Penguins bench for 10 games now. The Penguins have a 4-5-1 record under Sullivan, however, they boast a 4-1-1 record in their previous 6 games after their 4 game losing skid when Sullivan was hired.
So, was the Sullivan hire the right move?
Oh my gosh, yes.
I wrote an article after the first game that the Penguins played under Sullivan. It was a 4-1 loss to the Capitals. Although they lost that game, and the next 3 after that, I wanted to make a point clear: I believed in Sullivan, and I still do.
If you are a Penguins fan, you need to believe in him, too.
So let’s look at some statistical analysis here:
First, the Penguins are starting to score again. Although the Penguins are still only averaging 2.4 goals per game under Sullivan (they averaged 2.35 under Johnston this year), they have now scored 5 goals in three of Sullivan’s 10 games behind the bench. The Penguins only had 1 game in which they scored 5 or more under Johnston this year.
Second, the stars are producing. This is arguably the most important and most significant difference between Johnston and Sullivan. Johnston was extremely structured in his coaching from what I have read through multiple sources. He was very particular about guys playing a certain way and this, that, and the other. Sullivan has similar beliefs, but he believes that the superstars are superstars because of their instinctive abilities.
He wants to back of them a little bit and let them do what they do best: score goals.
Although the Penguins have a plethora of great players, I want to look at their 4 elite skaters: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, and Crosby, and break them down one guy at a time.
Under Johnston this year…
- Kessel played 28 games, racking up 17 points (9 G – 8A), which is good for approximately .608 points per game and .321 goals per game
- Letang played 25 games, tallying 14 points (1G – 13A), which gave him .56 points per game and .04 goals per game
- Malkin played 28 games, leading the Penguins with 26 points (13G – 13A), which gave him .929 points per game and .464 goals for per game
- Crosby played 28 games and tallied only 19 points (6G – 13A) which gave him .679 points per game and .214 goals per game
Under Sullivan this year…
- Kessel’s numbers have dropped slightly, but I believe this is because he played a ton of time on the third line, which gave him less ice time. That being said, in 10 games under Sullivan, Kessel has 5 points (3G – 2A), which gives him a .5 points per game and .3 goals per game. This will improve, however, as Kessel has been reunited with Malkin
- Letang has only played 4 games under Sullivan, but thus far has 8 points (2G – 6A) which is good for 2 points per game and .5 goals per game. By no means will Letang keep that kind of pace up, but he looks more confident on the ice and is beginning to shoot the puck more on the power play and in general
- Even Malkin’s numbers have increased, despite his dominant performances early in the season. In 10 games Malkin has 11 points (5G – 6A), which gives him 1.1 points per game and .5 goals per game
- Crosby has by far seen the most improvement under Sullivan, and thank goodness, because the Penguins need him to play like what he is: the best player in the world. In 9 games, Crosby has 10 points (5G – 5A), which gives him about 1.1 points per game and .55 goals per game
Stats speak for themselves. Although it may be a small sample size, the stars are really beginning to find their stride under Sullivan, and if they continue to do so, look out NHL.
Third, the power play is clicking. They are shooting the puck, creating movement, screening the goalie…you name it. The Penguins are finally beginning to have a power play that LOOKS like it should. The Penguins power play was darn near last in the league, clicking at only 15.6% (15 of 96).
In only 10 games under Sullivan, the power play has been clicking at a 27.3% rate (9 of 33), which brought the Penguins all the way up to 19th in the league in that department. AND that includes an 0 for 10 stretch in Sullivan’s first 3 games before he even had a practice with the team. Take away that 0 for 10 stretch, and the Penguins are at a ridiculous 39.1% clip (9 of 23).
I know it’s hard sometimes, but believe in these Penguins. Believe in Sullivan.
Just a few side notes:
The Penguins play a home-and-home against the Balckhawks on back-to-back nights (Tuesday and Wednesday). This should tell us a lot about how this team stands as it is right now.
Also, just because I am a huge fan, Daniel Sprong now has 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games since behind shipped back to juniors. He may not play for the Pens this year, but he is going to be special.