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It's A Great Day for Hockey - May 18

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
It's a Great Day for Playoff Hockey will be tracking the Penguins' Stanley Cup quest with constant updates throughout the postseason.

5:49 PM:
Some Penguins fans are getting psyched up for tonight's Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 showdown. (photos by Deborah Francisco)


1:47 PM:
Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice and associate head coach Ron Francis spoke with the media
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following their team's Monday morning skate. While the series matchup was discussed, Francis was asked a lot about his time in Pittsburgh. And of course, the classy Francis had nothing but good things to say about the Steel City.

"I played here in the early ‘90s, it seems like a long time ago now but I certainly have a few good memories of being in here, played quite a few good hockey games and I’m looking forward to watching some good hockey games here again."

Francis revealed his two most memorable moments in a Penguins uniform. He recalled setting up Kevin Stevens' overtime winning goal in Game 2 against Washington in the first Cup championship season. The other was Game 4 against the New York Rangers in 1992 Patrick Division Finals. Francis scored a hat trick in the game, including the overtime winner. 

"One is the overtime game against Washington with Kevin Stevens scoring, going down the left side and faking the shot and then going over to him and scoring. And certainly the Rangers game in here. We lost Mario Lemieux and then Joey Mullen early in that series and nobody really gave us a chance against the Presidents Trophy winners that year in the Rangers. Scoring a hat trick that night in this building and one from our blue line, which doesn’t happen every time, but that was certainly memorable. I had some people back to my house that night and there was a couple of neighbors that had hung some baseball hats in the tree out front in my front yard, and there were horns honking and stuff. When I woke up in the morning there must have been 30 or 40 baseball hats hanging in that same tree in the morning so that is certainly a good memory from that time."

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Francis has filled many roles for the Hurricanes since retiring as a player. His latest duty is acting as the team's associated head coach when Carolina altered its coaching staff in December.

"Ron has been phenomenal since the moment that he came onto the bench," Eric Staal said. "He has that positive energy and a real knack for plays, even in the midst of a game, to help you out and find some open ice in the offensive zone. He has a great knowledge for the game that has really helped myself personally and a lot of our offensive guys."

"I initially came into it saying that I didn’t want to be a part of coaching," Francis said. "I initially started with the organization as a director of player development, which was kind of interesting. It sort of evolved over time and (general manager) Jim (Rutherford) has been very good about letting me learn different facets of the business and I think it’s important. I had the player development side, worked with a lot of young kids and prospects and I’ve seen what that takes and you want to develop that. And then the assistant GM role and this year he asked me to step in behind the bench and help here for the balance of the season. So we’ll sit down when everything is all said and done and discuss which direction we go in but it’s been fun to learn all different aspects."

12:23 PM:
One particularly interesting topic Bylsma discussed was how the advent of video has changed the way teams prepare for their opponents. In the old days, a team would send pro scouts to study their next possible opponents. The scouts would chart a number of different areas, including player's ice time, strategies, style, tendencies, etc., and report their findings to the coaching staff.

With the availability of video, now the coaches can watch and study the opponents themselves. However, that doesn't mean the scouts don't have any input.

"Some of our pro scouts have already gone onto the next series and have scouted possible scenarios with different teams and they put together a game plan," Bylsma said. "We have them put together their own game plan so they don’t hear what I say and they don’t hear what the assistant coaches say. They put their own eyes, they put their own game plan together and then we compare notes on what we do."

The growing importance and emphasis on video has made Penguins video coach Travis Ramsay a key member of the Penguins organization. Ramsay breaks down the pre-scout and game film and works closely with the coaching staff on other video analyses projects.

"Travis Ramsay is a big part of it," Bylsma said. "We see the past four or five (Hurricanes') games. We see the games we played against them earlier in the year. Travis, (assistant coaches) Mike Yeo, Tom Fitzgerald and Gilles Meloche all spend time putting together clip after clip after clip and we sit together and narrow down what we think our focus should be.

"With the tools that we have and the video coach, it doesn’t make for less work. It actually probably gives you more opportunities to do more work. It takes a lot of preparation but we have had a lot of days to stew over it and watch it. I can tell you that the coaching staff is ready to get this thing underway."


12:04 PM:
Bylsma also addressed a few other interesting topics during his post-morning skate press conference. Below are a few of those.

He discussed his thinking and his strategy for fielding seven defensemen and 11 forwards, which requires Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin double shifting on the fourth line.
"Certainly a fourth line with (Crosby), (Adams) and (Satan) is a pretty good one or add (Malkin), (Satan) and (Adams) is a pretty good fourth line. So it’s beneficial in that regard but there are positives and negatives to the scenario of having 7-11. I think probably my biggest draw back is that as an assistant coach when you change the defensemen, seven is harder to handle than six as a defensemen coach. Sometimes it’s harder for the players to get into it because it’s not the regular rhythm that you get with six defensemen - so there are positives and negatives."

Bylsma on why the Cooke-Staal-Kennedy line struggled early in the Washington series:
"Two things changed. Washington’s defense played a quicker, more physical defensive zone than Philadelphia. So they were being challenged more by bigger defensemen and they were quicker to the puck with heavier sticks. So it was a harder time moving onto the puck which was part of the frustration in not being able to get to the offensive zone and stay in there longer. When you focus sometimes it goes from what your role is on the team to maybe, ‘I haven’t scored for our team in the last few games and maybe if we got a goal it would be a big difference to our team.’ You start to change your focus in a different direction and I think that was a part of it for the third line. Those two things factored into why they weren’t on there game like the way they were against Philly.  Having talked about it and realizing Washington was going to play a little bit more physical down low and a little bit more hack-and-whack mentality, they were ready for it and they did a couple of different things to help their line out in the offensive zone and did better as the series went on."


11:51 AM:
Here is head coach Dan Bylsma's daily updated on the status of defenseman Sergei Gonchar:
"Gonchar had a good day at practice yesterday and he looked comfortable out there today. I haven’t talked to our trainer yet but it’s a situation where come game time if he continues to look better it will be like a Game 7 situation and we’ll decide at that point."

10:45 AM:
Nothing very exciting to report from the morning skate. The forward combinations haven't change and the eight defensemen handled their normal rotation. The Penguins did work on their power play and it looked very impressive as the PP unit scored on four occassions during the short session.

Updates to follow....

10:07 AM:
Singer/performer Yanni, who held a concert at Mellon Arena Sunday, showed his support for the Penguins by wearning the team's alternate third jersey of Sidney Crosby.

Author: Sam Kasan

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