Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Penguins Coach Stresses Winning over Wiring

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Penguins Coach Stresses Winning over Wiring

Article excerpt

I heard Bob Knight speak at a basketball coaching clinic two weeks ago at Duquesne University. No, he didn't throw a chair. He was funny, charming and insightful -and something he said made me think of Mike Sullivan.

Speaking to an audience of mostly high school and college coaches, Knight offered this bit of advice: "Study your players."

In other words, get to know your team before you worry about anybody else's. Get to know it better than anyone else ever could. Learn what makes each player tick. Learn their athletic strengths and weaknesses and construct your system accordingly. Fashion your talking points accordingly.

Sullivan is a master in that respect. A PhD, actually, in Penguin psychology. He knows what he inherited. He often speaks of his team's "DNA." He is aware that even though his personnel has changed some, the following remains profoundly true: The Penguins are "wired for offense."

That was Sullivan's phrase after his team turned in its best defensive effort of the playoffs Thursday -a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals.

Supreme high-end skill is the Penguins' great advantage over the rest of the league. And yet, in order to win the ultimate prize, they must think defense first.

That is Sully's conundrum. That is his ultimate challenge - to keep the "wiring" intact while consistently pounding home the point that "you can't score your way to a championship," something he has mentioned in media scrums roughly 5,000 times since he walked through the door.

"That's the balance we have to find. That's the balance we've found when we've had success," Sullivan said Friday after practice in advance of Game 5. "As talented as our team is and as dynamic as we can be offensively, we have to be a team that's hard to play against, a team that forces our opponent to work for any sort of chances they get at our net. I think that's the formula for success in the playoffs.

"We try to convince our group of the importance of that."

He's right, of course. And the statistics scream to his point. One number, in particular, drives it home.

The number two.

I don't mean two Cups in a row, although that is the byproduct of diligent goal prevention. …

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