Stanley Cup Final: Penguins coach Sullivan on Malkin, Kessel, Letang
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan spoke briefly with the media after his team's practice on Monday morning. Here are the highlights:
On Evgeni Malkin's promise that he'll raise his game in the Stanley Cup Final: "I agree with him. I think his best is yet to come, too. He's a tremendous player. As that series [against Tampa Bay] went on, he started to play more of a straight-ahead game. He played a 'north' game. When he plays that way, he's really tough to challenge. When he’s challenging opponents with his speed and his power, obviously his puck skills are evident. But his speed and his power, I think, are really tough to handle. When he plays that way, I think he's a much more effective player individually and his line as a group."
On the success of his new-look second line: "We've moved different parts around [Sidney Crosby] and Geno over the last two months to try to create the balance that we're looking for and also complement both Sid and Geno with their strengths and how they play. Quite honestly, we'll probably continue to do that, depending on how the series goes.
"But, you know, when we put [Bryan Rust] on that right side with Geno and [Chris Kunitz], we liked the line. We thought it had a lot of speed. We thought they were hard to play against. Rusty and Kuny are very responsible players at both ends of the rink. I think they can track pucks down ... and help Geno get the puck back. He obviously is one of the premier play-makers in the league and just a great offensive player.
"That line we liked over the last few games. They've really provided a lot of offense for us, but also provided some stability in our D zone as well just because of the skill sets that we think are complementary."
On his confidence that Kris Letang will be available for Game 1: "Very confident."
On the evolution of Phil Kessel's game: "Phil and I have had a number of conversations over the course of the season. I was trying to define for him what our expectations are, how we might think he could best help us win. Phil has been very receptive all year long. I think he's made great strides over the last couple of months in some of the areas of his game where we've asked him to improve and get better. I think he's made a commitment to play away from the puck. I think he's playing much smarter in his own end zone.
"I think his offense speaks for itself. We try to stay out of his way when he has the puck. He certainly has way better instincts than the coaching staff does. That's what makes him the elite player that he is. I think he's made great strides, and I think our team has really been the great benefactor because he's had such an influence on the success that this team has enjoyed to this point."
On neutralizing San Jose's lethal power play: "We faced some pretty good power plays throughout the course of these playoffs. San Jose is another one of those teams that has a very good power play. Our discipline has to be there for us, as it has been throughout the course of the playoffs. I trust our guys in that regard.
"Certainly they're a tough power play to defend because they have a lot of movement and they have a lot of threats. It's difficult to key on any one guy because they have so many different threats.
"I think what we have to do is continue to understand why our penalty kill is successful, the pressure points and areas where we can put that power play under pressure and force them to have to make plays under duress. I think that's going to be an important aspect of our penalty kill. I think it's been one of the strengths of our group, not just in the regular season, but the post-season as well. Our penalty kill has consistently and quietly been a stabilizing aspect of our game and it's won a lot of games for us here over the last four months."