Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar left the team's practice on Friday. See 11:29 AM and 2:15 PM entries for details...
Here are some of the sounds heard around the locker room at Southpointe before the Penguins took off to Florida:
On Florida and Tampa Bay:
For us in our discussion today this is the halfway point. We are starting the second half of the season. Right now it is more about where we are at and what we need to do. We are pleased with certain areas of our game and we know we can get a lot better. Our guys are determined to be that way. One thing we can be sure of in both games in Florida is we are going to be playing a team that is going to try to work as hard as they can to play their game. They are going to work and they are going to work real hard. Tampa has that mentality. It’s the way Rich Tocchet wants them to play. Then we are going to play a team in Florida that speed and a fast game in the offensive zone is there game. We have to be ready to play and we have to be ready to work against two teams that are going to do both of those things.On how condensed the schedule will be in January:
You say it before you get into the season this is going to be a condensed schedule but when you get in it and you are every other day and now we are facing 15 games in the next 30 days starting tomorrow, there are only two occasions when we have two days between games. It’s an effort by the players, it’s an effort by the coaching staff and it’s an effort with the preparation work we do that we have to make adjustments given the amount of time we have in between games. We certainly have made adjustments this year in regards to practices and to optional skates. We will continue to do that and even be more aware of that coming in and out of the break.
On whether he wants to see offensive or defensive zone improvement:
I think one would probably lead to the other. I think one of the areas our team can get better is consistency and playing our game. Part of that consistency is in the offensive zone and coming back into the D-zone coverage. D-zone coverage will lead to being in there a short time and getting into the offensive zone a little more. We haven’t had as many dominating periods of hockey in the offensive zone as we would like and know we can have. A part of that is our defensive play and defensive-zone coverage. That is something we will continue to focus on.
On what being an Olympian means:
It’s really exciting. I feel really fortunate and really happy with the opportunity. It’s going to be a dream come true for me. It’s a once in a lifetime chance being from Canada and playing hockey, a sport that is so beloved in Canada. I definitely feel honored.On talking about the rivalry with the Russians with Malkin and Gonchar:
Not really. I don’t think there really is any room to joke about it. As we get closer we may a little bit. I think we all realize how intense that is and it is not really a laughing matter when it comes to those two teams. It is something that has been there a lot longer than we have been alive. It goes back a long time. Both countries are pretty familiar with hockey and how intense it is.
On Tampa Bay and Florida:
We have played pretty tight games against both teams over the last few years. Florida, I think it has gone to a shootout or overtime every time this year, so we always expect a lot of speed from them. With Tampa, we know they are very dangerous up front with the firepower they have. They are two pretty good hockey teams that like to play fast. That seems to be the trend throughout the league now. You have to be prepared to skate and execute every game because a lot of teams are trying to play the same way. If you get caught on your heels you are in trouble.
On Florida and Tampa Bay:
We saw Tampa early in the year so we haven’t seen them in a while. I am sure they are probably playing a little bit better than when we where playing them. It’s always tougher playing them down there in their building. Florida is the same way. Florida plays a lot like we do system-wise. They play an up-tempo pace. It always seems like it’s a real competitive game with Florida.
On the Penguins’ effort in recent games:
Our effort has been great. Maybe the Toronto game, that wasn’t even effort that was just execution coming off the break. The first 35 minutes of the Buffalo game we played probably as well as we have all year. In New Jersey I thought we did a lot of good things. It’s definitely not effort. A lot of it is execution and going hand-in-hand with that is just being mentally sharp.
On it just being a play here and there preventing the Penguins from winning recently:
I think so. The Buffalo game we took a 3-0 lead and things just kind of slipped away. Against New Jersey that game could have gone either way. We just have to stick to doing the right things. Hopefully we can get more bounces than the opponents do and turn things around.
On Florida and Tampa Bay:
We don’t see them too much but the Lightning are definitely a higher-skilled team. They are a team that can make plays so you have to be aware of certain guys out there. Florida is kind of the opposite. They are a hard-working group and a disciplined team that can definitely sneak up on you for sure.On how closely matched up the Penguins and Panthers are:
Yeah, we always have good games against them it seems like. They play really good in their system and they work really hard so it is always a challenge.
On the crazy schedule with the Olympics:
It is pretty crazy. We have been playing a lot of games at the beginning of the season. I feel like we are going to play even more in the second half. It’s tough on everyone. Every team has to go through the same thing. It makes it tough at the same time. If you lose a game you play the next day or the day after so you don’t have time to think. Sometimes that is good.On Tampa Bay:
They are a good team. They are very talented. It is always tough to go down there and play them in their building. They are a confident team down there. We have to get ready for back-to-back afternoon games. We have a lot of those this year. It’s going to be interesting.On liking more games close together than mixing in more practices:
It’s fun to play. It’s fun to play games and compete every other night. That is what we do. It gets interesting when you are playing every other night.
Here is an update from head coach Dan Bylsma regarding Sergei Gonchar's status for Saturday's game at Tampa Bay:
"He was better today in terms of dealing with his injury. It wasn’t great on the ice. Without a morning skate tomorrow it’s tough to think we are going to have him. We are hopping he continues to progress like he did coming into today. If that is the case it could be a warm-up decision."
Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar left the team's Friday practice early. There is no word yet on the reasoning. Gonchar was hobbled in the team's last game (Wednesday at New Jersey) after blocking a shot. He returned to the game.