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Sullivan won't let Penguins off the hook


Sullivan won't let Penguins off the hook

If the NHL regular season ended today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That wouldn’t fly with their new no-nonsense head coach Mike Sullivan, who on Saturday was promoted from the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Penguins to replace Mike Johnston in Pittsburgh and will be behind the bench Monday night against the Capitals.

In fact, not much is going to fly with Sullivan, who has earned the reputation as a stern taskmaster in his career as a head coach in Boston and John Tortorella’s assistant coach in Tampa, New York and Vancouver.

Late in the 2012-13 season, after former Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik was placed on waivers by the Caps and claimed by the Rangers I remember Hamrlik telling me that playing for John Tortorella and Sullivan was like “being in prison.” Players who smiled on the ice were met by a glare by Sullivan, Hamrlik told me.

Maybe that’s what the Penguins think they need.

RELATED: Holtby has been a model of consistency for Caps

The last time the Caps and Penguins met on Oct. 28, Caps coach Barry Trotz said he understood Johnston’s challenge of getting his players to buy into the defensive style he was selling. When I mentioned those comments to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby he made it clear that “buying in” was not an issue for him or his teammates.

The Pens went on to win that game 3-1 in Washington, but their offense continued to struggle after that. Through their first 28 games the Penguins rank 26th in the NHL in goals per game (2.36) and 25th in goals allowed (2.32).

As coach of the AHL Penguins, Sullivan, 47, had an 18-5-0-0 record for the best winning percentage (.783) in the league, and his team had scored 85 goals, third most in the AHL.

Sullivan’s only NHL experience as a head coach came from 2003-06 when he coached the Bruins for two seasons. Boston finished first (41-19-15-7) in the Northeast Division that first season but were knocked out of the playoffs by the Canadiens in the first round.

Following the 2004-05 lockout, the Bruins went 29-37-16 under Sullivan and finished last in the division, prompting Sullivan’s dismissal following the 2005-06 season.

Since then, Sullivan has served as Tortorella’s assistant with the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks. He was hired by the Penguins to replace John Hynes after Hynes was hired to coach the New Jersey Devils.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby leads Capitals past Lightning, 2-1

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

USA Today Sports

Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

USA Today Sports

Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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