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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Rick Tocchet

Penguins assistant using own playing experience to help keep Crosby, Malkin grounded

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet:

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Rick Tocchet is comfortable in Pittsburgh in his role as assistant coach to Mike Sullivan. He's comfortable working with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Penguins forwards, and preparing to help them do what he did as a player for the franchise.

Tocchet won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1992. He returned as an assistant coach last season and has been a part of getting Pittsburgh on the brink of advancing to the Eastern Conference Final to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Penguins lead the Washington Capitals 3-2 heading into Game 6 at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"All the hard work, now it's paying off," Tocchet said. "We beat the Rangers. We're up 3-2 against Washington. It's all coming together, which is satisfying. We have a lot of games left to get the ultimate prize and you can never be satisfied, but we can come to the rink with a smile on our face."

Tocchet has been doing that since he returned to Pittsburgh last season after serving as a Philadelphia Flyers television analyst for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

He survived the coaching change from Mike Johnston to Sullivan on Dec. 12. He believes strongly in the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship potential. He also still has aspirations to be a head coach again after a 148-game stint with the Lightning from 2008-10.

Tocchet talked about all of that and more during an interview with NHL.com following the Penguins' practice Monday.

Here are Five Questions with…Rick Tocchet:

What was the coaching change like for you from Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan? How did that affect you and why do you think the team has responded so well since it was made?

"Well, first of all you feel bad because I enjoyed worked for Mike Johnston. Part of you feels like you failed a little bit because a couple of your buddies, like Gary Agnew, get fired and you're feeling like, 'Well, why didn't I get fired?' But then you look at the positives. Your job is to give your knowledge and what you can bring to your team. The one thing that I was lucky with is I worked with Sully in Tampa Bay when I was the head coach and he was the assistant, and I played with him in Phoenix. I know him so to me it was an easy transition. I know the way Sully played and coaches. He's got a great hockey mind. He was probably a major reason why I stayed, which I really appreciate. Now I try to supply him with what I can add.

"I think, first of all, when Sully came in he wanted to establish a team identity. I don't know if we really had one, like who are the Penguins? When you play the Penguins, what are you going to get from them? I don't know if we had that. It's no fault of anybody's, I just think Sully wanted to get that. So when we brought the young guys up, we traded for [Carl] Hagelin, traded for [Trevor] Daley, we became a team that had some speed. We had to defend, though. Speed is great, but we had to defend and we had to have speed that wouldn't get intimidated. I think we wrapped all that together and became who we are."

You played with Mario Lemieux here, and you've worked with Steven Stamkos and now Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. How did your experience playing with an elite player help you as a coach coaching elite players?

"The one thing with Mario that not too many players have is for a superstar level he's even keel. He doesn't get too high or too low. As a coach, and even as a player, that's one thing I learned from Mario, not to get too high or too low. Whether you win a game or lose a game, whether you get two goals or you're minus-2, you try to be even keeled. I think even keeled, when it comes down to crunch time, to pressure, usually prevails. It's the team that is even-keeled, the players that are even-keeled in pressure moments that win. If you play that rollercoaster of emotion it's hard to maintain. I see that from [Crosby and Malkin] now, especially in the last three months. I've seen a change in them. For example, how many times were we behind and came back this year? The last three months it's at least six or seven times. I'm not sure last year, if it's personnel or whatever, that we ever came back. I think that has something to do with our leadership this year maintaining that even keel, saying, 'There's lots of time left, stick with the system.' That's Sully too, he's very much a stick with the program guy.

"These guys, they don't look for preferential treatment. The one thing when you work with Sid and Geno, you can't take the stick out of their hand. They're going to try some stuff that you may not want certain players to try in certain parts of the game, but those guys, they can make plays so you have to let them do that. But they have to stay in the structure and the concept of the team. Yeah, you want to let them be free and do what they want, but they still have to maintain the concept of the team. With Mike Sullivan, there is a balance there. If Sully feels like they're getting away from the concept, a little too whatever, he'll tell them. I think Sid and Geno want to be told. I don't think you have to treat them any different like coaches who are scared to coach superstar players. I think Sully has done that with them."

Have they done enough in this series against Washington in your opinion?

"It's the same for the other side, look at their best players, you look at points, goals and assists. You've got to be careful with that. Yeah, would you like to see top players score a big goal? Of course. They want to score a big goal. But you can't let the other parts of your game falter. Hey, Chicago, the model franchise, three Cups in the last six years, or seven seasons now, Jonathan Toews didn't score for nine straight games [in 2013]. So your depth, your concept, it all has to be there and everything else will come through."

Video: Hear what Crosby said after practice today

What do you like about coaching? Why stay with it?

"Well, listen, I wish I was in the locker room as a player. I wish I was playing. There's nothing like being a player. I always tell these guys, 'Don't take it for granted, because when it's done there's a void.' Me and [Penguins defenseman development coach] Sergei Gonchar, we practice with the guys and we want to play. We always joke about that. But you're still part of the team as a coach. You're still part of putting puzzles together. I like that. Hey, maybe this guy will play good with this guy. Hey, we can use this system. Hey, Washington is doing this against us, so maybe we should try that. I like the chess match. I like being involved in that part of it. I like being involved in the commraderie with the coaches. [Assistant coach] Jacques Martin, [goalie coach] Mike Bales and I, we have a great relationship. That's the void I'm missing from playing. I can fill that, but it's still not like playing. As a coach you don't feel totally in control of it. You give the players the information and now it's up to them to go execute. But for me it's the next best thing to playing."

Do you want to be a head coach again or do you like this role now?

"Yes. I don't know how long I'll be an assistant coach. I love being an assistant coach, but eventually I'd like another kick at the can. It might not happen. There's only 30 NHL coaches. Look at Mike Sullivan, it took him 10 years to get another job. There's a lot of who you know. There's a lot of trying to market yourself. There's a lot of luck involved. There's a lot of different things. If you keep winning eventually it could happen, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. The one thing is I don't want to miss an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup and that is something this year we're really striving for. I just like the way the team has been playing the last three or four months, just need to stick with it. We knew it would be a tough series and [Tuesday] night is going to be a huge game."

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