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May 19, 2016

Mike Sullivan

Tampa, Florida: Practice Day

Q. Can you give us an update on Patric Hornqvist and whether you expect him to be in the lineup for Game 4.
COACH SULLIVAN: He's being evaluated today. He obviously blocked a shot late in the game. We think he's making progress. We'll see how he is tomorrow, but I don't envision it being an issue.

Q. Mike, you know, through the years coaches have always told me that, once they start coaching a player and they get him every day, they change their opinions about him or they have a different opinion. Now that you've had Phil Kessel for a while, what are your thoughts on what type of player he is and what kind of personality he is?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, my feeling is I think Phil is a guy that's probably misunderstood. We've really grown to appreciate what he brings to our team and helping us win. I think Phil's a guy that he obviously is very gifted, loves to score, and I think he's competitive in his own way.
And you can define competitiveness in different ways, and what I've grown to appreciate about Phil is his competitiveness, especially down the stretch here in the playoffs when the stakes are high. He's played extremely well for us. I think he's been receptive to our coaching message. He's -- we all have areas of our game where we have strengths and weaknesses. With all of our players, we try to improve our overall games in whatever areas that we can. Phil is no different. We try to challenge him to improve his overall game, and I think he's been receptive to that.
I think he's really made a concerted effort to make a commitment away from the puck and being better defensively, and I think his offense speaks for itself. So I think the biggest thing that I've grown to appreciate about Phil is how competitive he is, especially when the stakes are high.

Q. Mike, what have you seen from Chris Kunitz as we've moved through the playoffs here, and what about that fit with Crosby makes up such a comfortable one that other coaches have always kind of come back to as well, regardless of what else has gone on in the season?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, he's obviously an important player for us. I think he plays a lot bigger than he is. He brings a physical element to the lines that he's on. He forces turnovers. He can play with pace. So I think he helps -- he helps with the speed game for the lines that he's on.
And I think he's obviously over the years played a lot with Sid, and so there's a comfort level there with both of them. I think there's familiarity with their tendencies. We've played them during the regular season down the stretch there, we had them together for a long period of time, and they were a real important line for us and helping us win in games of traction going into the playoffs. We got away from it. I went back to it the game before last, and we stayed with it the last game.
It just gives us options, but certainly he's a real good player. I think he brings -- you know, he brings a ton of energy to whatever line he plays with, and I also think that just the fact that he's been around as long as he has, he knows how to win, and I think he's got a nice demeanor about him that helps our team.

Q. Mike, what have you seen out of -- I mean, this almost has been no surprise since you've had Matt Murray come up. Has he been the one pleasant surprise that gives your skaters the ability to go ahead and do the extra stuff and give him the help that he needs, not just the goals, but playing well in front of him?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, yeah, he's providing that timely save for us that gives our team a chance to win. I think we have -- you know, I've said this on a number of occasions. We have three goaltenders that we have a comfort level with. Matt's played extremely well since he's been put into the role that he's been put into, you know, in an imperfect environment.
We had an unfortunate injury with Fleury late in the playoffs -- excuse me, late in the season that's put him out for an extended period of time. It's not the best scenario for our team, but this team has found ways to overcome injuries in all of its positions for the last three or four months. And Matt has come in and provided that timely save for our team when we needed it, to give our team the best chance to win on any given night. So that's all you can ask from your goaltenders, and he's done that for us.
I think he has a certain demeanor about him that has a calming influence, and the fact that he does not get rattled regardless of how the game goes certainly provides a level of confidence for the players in front of him.

Q. Mike, I think it's fair to say that things didn't end particularly well for Justin Schultz at Edmonton, and I wonder what you've seen in him, in his game, that's given you the confidence to go to him when you decided that Olli needed to take a step back. What is it that allowed him to become the kind of player that can play the minutes he is at this level, at this stage?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, what we try to do is -- we like to see our players for what they can do and not what they can't do. It's our responsibility to try to put them in situations where they can play to their strengths. And all of our guys have different strengths, and that's what makes good teams good, I think.
And Justin's a guy that, when we acquired him, we thought he could help us play the identity or the type of game that we want to play. He's a very good puck mover. He has good offensive instincts. He has good mobility. He can really shoot the puck. And so we've tried to put him in positions where he can play to those strengths, and he's done a real good job for us. He doesn't try to do too much. He plays within himself.
We've tried to offer him feedback from what we see or what our expectations are in trying to define his role with our group, and I think he's embraced that with our team. So when we do put him in the lineup, we know what we're getting. We know how we think he can help us win. We try to put him in situations so he can play to his strength.

Q. Mike, how likely would you have been to even go with Hagelin, Bonino, and Kessel? I know you tried a little bit beginning of January, I think. If there wasn't the Malkin injury at the end of the regular season.
COACH SULLIVAN: That's a tough question to answer. You know, sometimes you -- sometimes as a coaching staff, you get forced into exploring options because of circumstances, and that's what happened with Geno. We liked the line when Geno was playing with Haggy and Phil before he got hurt, and then obviously, when Bones stepped in, you know, when Geno was on the sidelines, that line really established a lot of chemistry.
And so when we -- at least we felt, our thought process when Geno came back into our lineup, it was, well, this is going to make us a more balanced team because now we have the ability to spread some of our elite skill throughout our lineup. It presents potential matchup challenges for our opponents. It gives us a deeper group up front with offensive threats throughout our line, and that's what it's allowed us to do.
To answer your question, I'm not sure how likely I would have been -- I know we tried different things when I first took the team over as far as spreading some of our top talent throughout our lineup. We've always felt like, if we had the ability to create more balance, we'd be a harder team to play against, but it's not always easy to make that happen.
You know, I think when Bones was thrown between Haggy and Phil and they established that chemistry the way they did, it certainly gave us that option.

Q. Mike, the players were called from Wilkes-Barre today. In your experience, how much of a benefit do the Black Ace guys or the practice squad guys, whatever the preferred nomenclature is, how much benefit do they get out of that? Is there any possibility those guys could be lineup consideration?
COACH SULLIVAN: Well, I think it's a great experience for them to be around an atmosphere like this where the stakes are high. It's exciting hockey. It's great hockey. So any time a young player has an opportunity to be around it, to experience it, to see how some of the veteran players carry themselves, to prepare for this type of an environment at this time of year, I think young players can't help but learn from that experience.
As far as lineups, that all depends on what happens with our team moving forward. That's a real hypothetical for me, so that's a tough one to answer.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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