Courtesy of Hertz

Drive to the Net: How Sullivan can build up from the back … again

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Kris Letang and Olli Maatta fend off the Devils' Kyle Palmieri and Mike Cammalleri on Saturday night. - MATT SUNDAY / DK

Mike Sullivan needed just one game as the Penguins' head coach, almost a year ago now, to fully grasp the whole slew of what was systematically missing from his group: They moved up the ice too slowly. They forechecked too meekly. They defended too loosely. Their idea of crashing the crease was cheering on Patric Hornqvist. Their idea of power-play productivity was trying to out-cute each other with perimeter passing.

The new guy absorbed it all, seemingly with the snap of a finger.

And yet, in that same snap, he also decided — and declared publicly — that he would begin building real cohesiveness, real consistency from the back and work his way up.

"It's got to start," he'd say at the time, "with defending."

It did, too. And it paid off handsomely, as I'm guessing you've heard. Because on that magical night of June 12 in San Jose, with the Penguins one period away from the Stanley Cup, they'd completely suffocate the Sharks in conceding only two shots.

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