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Sullivan won't let Penguins off the hook

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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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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

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Morrissey avoids suspension for Oshie body slam in a decision that makes little sense

The Department of Player Safety announced Thursday that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey was fined $8,467.74 for his body slam of T.J. Oshie in Wednesday’s game. It is a punishment that falls well short of the standard the DPS itself set earlier this season.

Late in Wednesday’s game between the Caps and Jets, Oshie skated to the corner of the offensive zone after the puck while locked in a physical battle with Morrissey. Morrissey checked Oshie into the boards, then, as he was falling back, Morrissey slammed Oshie down to the ice. Oshie appeared to be dazed after the play which is troubling given his history of concussions.

There is nothing wrong with the initial hit. Both players were battling for the puck making Oshie eligible to be hit. The problem is after the hit when Morrissey slams him to the ice afterward, which is unnecessary and dangerous.

Oh, c’mon, you may be saying, Morrissey was just finishing his check! That’s not an argument anymore considering the DPS already suspended a player for doing the exact same thing earlier this season when Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson slammed Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson to the ice. Matheson was suspended two games for the play.

Matheson’s suspension was a matter of some debate within the hockey community not just because some argued Matheson was finishing his check on a hockey play, but because it was made to look worse by the fact that Pettersson is only 176 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than Matheson. The DPS didn’t buy it and Matheson was suspended.

If you compare the Morrissey and the Matheson hits, they are very similar. Matheson hits Pettersson with a legal check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. Matheson then slammed Pettersson to the ice after the initial check, just as Morrissey did with Oshie. One can quibble somewhat with the fact that Petterrsson’s skates came off the ice making the throw down more violent, but the two plays are similar enough that, in my opinion, it is fair to compare them and the corresponding punishment. In fact, one could easily argue that the Morrissey hit is worse considering he and Oshie are both listed as 195 pounds. Oshie didn’t go down to the ice because of a size disparity, Morrissey had to physically slam him down.

In addition, Morrissey is considered a repeat offender after getting suspended in the 2018 playoffs for a crosscheck to Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal. To be fair, being a repeat offender is not supposed to affect the DPS’s decision on whether a play is worthy of a suspension or not, it is only meant to be taken into consideration when determining the length of a suspension.

But the remains that the DPS was presented with two very similar plays within one month of each other and came up with two completely different punishments. That is more than a little head scratching.

The DPS has one of the toughest jobs in hockey. No matter what they do, most people are going to be unhappy with the decisions they make. It’s the nature of the job when it comes to determining supplemental discipline. Having said that, the one thing people should be able to expect from the DPS is consistency. The Morrissey hit on Oshie seemed like a slam-dunk considering a very similar play happened a month before and resulted in a two-game suspension.

But hey, Caps fans can at least take comfort in the fact that Morrissey was issued the maximum fine allowed by the CBA. So there’s that.

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Capitals prospect report: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby goes home

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Capitals prospect report: Axel Jonsson-Fjallby goes home

Early in October, reports began popping up saying Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was headed back to his native Sweden to play for Djurgardens IF in the SHL. Those reports were refuted by the team which said that he remained in Hershey and had no plans to return to Sweden at that time.

Just over a month later and Jonsson-Fjallby’s move back to Sweden is official. On Tuesday, the Capitals announced he had been loaned to Djurgardens IF.

Jonsson-Fjallby scored two goals and three points in 15 games with the Bears.

While Jonsson-Fjallby was technically loaned by the Caps, it seems clear going back to Sweden was his decision. Capitals Outsider quotes a Bears spokesperson saying, “We are obviously disappointed, but it was Axel’s contractual right.”

To be fair, Jonsson-Fjallby was adjusting to a new country. That’s difficult. You do not know what a player’s specific situation is when it comes to family or how he is adjusting to living in a new place. Having said that, this was not a good move in terms of his NHL career.

Adjusting to the North American game takes time. Going back to Sweden to play the European game obviously delays that transition.

Not every player has to go to the AHL to adjust. Evgeny Kuznetsov was talented enough that the Caps were willing to bring him along straight from the KHL to the bottom six in the NHL as he adjusted and developed. Jonsson-Fjallby, however, is not Kuznetsov.

When Jonsson-Fjallby is finally ready to return to North America, he will now have to start the process of adjusting to the North American game again, putting him behind all the players in the system that are there now.

He may feel like it is the right move to return home personally, but in terms of his hockey career, this was a step in the wrong direction.

Other prospect notes:

  • Jonas Siegenthaler made his NHL debut on Friday with both Brooks Orpik and John Carlson out with injuries. He was impressive in his first game playing alongside Madison Bowey. He played in his second game on Wednesday which ties him for the franchise lead in games played by a Swiss-born player. He remains with the Caps on their current road trip.
  • llya Samsonov started in both of Hershey’s games over the weekend with Vitek Vanecek still out with an upper-body injury. Samsonov won one of those two games bringing his record for the season to 3-5.
  • Nathan Walker returned to Hershey after the Caps placed him on waivers. He scored in his very first game back on Saturday against Springfield. He also got into a fight in his second game back on Sunday.
  • Riley Barber had no goals in the first six games of the season. Now he has five in the past seven. Over the weekend, Barber recorded a goal and an assist in both of Hershey’s games. He now leads the team in points with 11 and sits third in goals behind Liam O’Brien (7) and Mike Sgarbossa (6).
  • Tyler Lewington has racked up 454 career penalty minutes with Hershey, passing Don Cherry who had 424 while with the Bears. He currently sits second in the AHL in penalty minutes with 54. A lot of fans like Lewington because he is not afraid to drop the gloves, but not all of those minutes are from fighting. Lewington also leads the league in minor penalties with 12.
  • With his goal Friday in a win over Rensselaer, Chase Priskie became Quinnipiac’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen with 29 goals. “It’s great to be in the record books, but at the same time it’s the players that I’ve been able to play with for the last four years,” Priskie said. “Without them, a lot of those goals don’t happen and I can’t give enough praise to the guys I’ve been able to play with that have been able to get me the puck in the right situations. I’ve been able to do the easy part. I just try to come in and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

 

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