This morning, the players had their first practice under new head coach Mike Johnston. And while it’s certainly very early, the guys had enough time to form first impressions.
“(It was a) high pace, so I was surprised,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “I don’t think you can get faster and harder than that. It was fun; it was fun to see that he bangs everything quick and he relies on us to understand and be mature enough to make things right. He’s not going to go for 2-3 hours on the ice; he’s not going to make meetings go forever. He’s going to make everything clear right away and he’s going to have the confidence in the player that he’s coaching to have the responsibility of acting like a pro and doing stuff like a pro.”
That’s exactly what Johnston hoped to accomplish.
“(We wanted to) get some tempo and pace into practice,” he said. “If that’s the way we want to play, we have to get some practice that way.”
The players started their day with a video session, where Johnston went over the systems and structure he’ll be implementing this year.
“We went over (what) we’ll be doing during the season before practice, just to introduce it and get it into your head early,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
After that, the players – who were split up into two groups – each practiced for 75 minutes. They spent the session focusing on breakouts and the forecheck before ending with a tough conditioning session that saw them repeatedly skate up and down the length of the ice five times.
“I think (breakouts are) a big part of our game – moving pucks forward and having that puck possession game coming out of our end,” Bortuzzo said. “Offensively, just kind of forechecking and stuff like that. Nothing too crazy. … It was obviously a tough day but I think everybody wanted that. I don’t think we’d want it any other way.”
For the veterans on the roster who played several seasons under former head coach Dan Bylsma, it’s going to be an adjustment switching to Johnston’s way of doing things.
“It’s different when you’ve been doing the same drills for five or six years and you get something new,” forward Craig Adams said.
But they’re thankful that Johnston isn’t wasting any time teaching it to them.
“It’s not too much different, but there’s certainly little wrinkles in it that are different that you have to get into your head early,” Scuderi said. “Sometimes when you start playing games, you revert back to habits that were instinct from the previous regime. So you have to try to get that stuff into your head early so you make the right decisions at the right time.”