When Mike Sullivan took over as the Penguins head coach on Dec. 12, the team was right behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Heading into the All-Star break, Sullivan and his staff have Pittsburgh clinging to that final Wild Card spot, but what’s most encouraging is their improved play.
The Sullivan era didn’t start off on the right foot.
The Penguins lost their first four games with him behind the bench and they managed just three wins in his first nine contests, but that losing streak seems like a distant memory with the way Pittsburgh is playing now.
“I like him,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “He’s intense. He’s got some emotions. He’s upbeat. He’s honest and straight to the point. He’s been good for us.”
In January, the Penguins went 6-2-3 with Sullivan at the helm and improved to 9-3-4 after the four game losing streak.
His serious approach behind the bench seems to be having its desired affect on the players.
“I don’t look at myself as this hard coach,” Sullivan said. “I think I’m an honest coach. I think I’m a matter-of-fact coach. I told these guys at our first meeting: ‘We have some great players in the room. Our challenge is to become a great team. It’s my responsibility to try to facilitate that process.’
“I like to have as much fun as the next guy, and I think in time our players will see it. But, you know, we’re in a circumstance here that I think has called for a serious approach. The conversation I have with them all the time is, how do we have to play in order to win, and what is your contribution?
Sullivan’s arrival has also coincided with the improved play of Sidney Crosby.
The Pens captain had 19 points in 28 games before the new coach’s took over and 22 points in 20 games since.
On a lighter note, here are some fun facts about coach Sullivan (via The Tribune):
-Billy Joel is his favorite musical act.
-His favorite Broadway musical is Jersey Boys (he’s seen it four times).
-He doesn’t invest much time in fixing his hair before games.