As the NHL prepares to begin Phase 3, the training camp phase of it’s return to play, uncertainties abound.
But this much we know: Mike Sullivan is ready.
The Penguins’ head coach emphatically confirmed as much a little more than a week ago in a Zoom session with the media.
Sullivan referenced the impending “opportunity” or a perceived “great opportunity” seven times, and that doesn’t include a lighthearted moment in which Sullivan admitted he was looking forward to the “opportunity” to yuk it up again with AT&T SportsNet’s Dan Potash.
The Stanley Cup or the chance to win another Cup was brought up three times by a coach who has already won two of those.
Sullivan clearly isn’t interested in asterisks or any other qualifiers being attached to the eventual awarding of the Cup following a gap of four-plus months between the end of a not-quite-complete regular season and a postseason that will be conducted in bubbles.
This is about as far from business as usual as it can get.
But there’s still a Cup waiting for someone eventually.
And if somebody’s going to win it, Sullivan is reasoning, it might as well be the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby, another maniacal competitor, likely feels the same way.
There’s reason to suspect the rest of the Penguins will fall in line behind those two, and behind their veteran leadership core.
It’s happened before.
What if it happens again?
The Penguins might have been the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference when things shut down in March. But what if they’re able to attack what comes next, to commit to it with everything they have, as opposed to initially dipping one toe into the frozen water?
The uncertainty associated with the NHL’s return to play includes not knowing if all the teams are going to be all-in, and how much of a factor distraction might become amid the unprecedented circumstances.
The Penguins might not be better than the Bruins, Lightning or Capitals, but they might be better at putting aside anything and everything that might prevent them from being their individual and collective best.
If the deck reshuffles in such a fashion, as it presumably must to some degree, at least initially, it’ll be anybody’s Cup.
We still won’t know what to expect.
But we can at least anticipate the Penguins being the Penguins.
There are worse scenarios to envision as a starting point moving forward.
“Our focus with our players has always been to just control the control-ables,” Sullivan emphasized.
And then there was this regarding the Pens’ upcoming best-of-five series against the Canadiens: “We’re going to have to have an element of patience associated with our game so that we don’t force plays that aren’t there and turn into a high-risk team.”
More than four months later, it’s like he never left.
The Pens’ players might likewise pick up where they left off.
“I know how much of an opportunity they see in front of them,” Sullivan insisted. “There’s a lot to play for.”
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