The Pittsburgh Penguins are proving doubters wrong. I wrote an extensive column about it just a few days ago, and yes I was one of those who doubted their ability to not only make the playoffs, but make a deep run.
As of writing this, the Penguins are 9-1-0 in their last ten, have clinched a playoff spot for the 10th straight season and have a record of 47-25-8 for a total of 102 points. They have the second best in the entire Eastern conference and it’s been quite a turnaround for a team that was on the outside looking in on the playoff hunt.
The primary reason that the Penguins have made such a rapid turnaround is the promotion of head coach Mike Sullivan. He’s got his message through to the stars and their playing great hockey right now. Prior to joining the Penguins, Sullivan was coaching the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and had them off to a 18-5-0-0 record.
I’ve been asked a question quite a few times and that’s what would the Penguins season look like if Sullivan had been their coach from the start?
Mike Johnston Vs Mike Sullivan
To further understand just how gigantic of a difference the coaching change has been I went ahead and broke down all relevant metrics and used the win percentages of each coach to project how many points the Penguins would accumulate during a full 82 game season.
To say the difference is gigantic is an understatement.
Not only are the Penguins having seven percent more goals scored for them than against, but their possession metrics are great and they’re winning more games. Add all that up and the Penguins would have 12 more points under Sullivan as opposed to Johnston, which is the equivalent of six wins.
However, there’s another topic that needs to be discussed, could the Penguins under Sullivan catch the Washington Capitals and have the league’s best record and take home the Presidents’ Trophy? Many in the Penguins’ fanbase see how well the team is playing right now and really believe that they could catch the Capitals.
There’s something to consider, Washington is 5-3-2 in their last 10 games played and that’s because they don’t have much to play for. I’ve seen them play a handful of times in those 10 games and they’re lacking the passion they had earlier in the season. And it makes sense, once your team has a playoff spot, let alone the best record in the league, it’s not worth it for a player to go and give his best effort every night, they’re saving their energy for the playoffs.
Mike Sullivan’s Penguins Versus the Washington Capitals
The Capitals were flying at the beginning of the season and many look at their struggles as of late and discount what the team has done since Sullivan was hired on December 12th, 2015. While they’re not playing their best hockey, their win percentage still puts them on pace for 120 points.
Sullivan has the Penguins on a much better pace, but they’re still significantly behind the Capitals. However, to be fair to Sullivan, the month of December was a mess for the team as they tried to learn a new system and implement new tactics.
Let’s take a look at how the Capitals have been playing both while Johnston and Sullivan have been coaching and also how Sullivan’s Penguins have played since the beginning of 2016.
While it’s great to think the Penguins could catch the Capitals if the season was longer, it simply is just a thought. Sullivan has the Penguins executing at a very high level, especially since the turn of the year, but it’s not enough. And that’s not a knock on Sullivan, but a testament to how great of a season the Capitals have been having, they’re undeniably the best overall team in hockey this year.
Sullivan has had a tremendous impact on the Penguins and the statistics back up the perceived improvement, but are they playing at higher level than the Capitals? That’s up for debate who would win during a seven game playoff series, but at least looking at regular season metrics, the Penguins could not catch the Capitals even if the season was extended.
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers