The Pittsburgh Penguins have officially reached the midway point of their first season under new management, a new coaching staff and with a lot of new players. With so many changes during the offseason, we checked in with a few of the team leaders to see how the Penguins have adjusted to all the changes through the first half. Here's our 1-on-1 with Sidney Crosby.
Now that you’re halfway through the season, do you have a better sense of what your identity is and who the Pittsburgh Penguins are under this new coaching staff?
You know what, it’s been tough. With so many injuries, it’s tough to necessarily nail that down. But I’d like to think we’re a team that likes to play fast and still with a bit of grit at the same time; we can play a physical game if we need to. But I think our speed and ability to move the puck is probably our biggest strength as a group.
The way the coaches have the defensemen jump up to be part of the rush and always be an option – is that something you’ve seen before or is that new? I think most teams are playing like that now. That’s kind of the only way to create offense now with the way teams play defensively. Bringing your D into the rush brings a lot more offense and creates a lot more space, so with the guys we have and their ability to do that, that’s something that’s helped us, I think.
You mentioned the injuries. I don’t know how much of a factor that’s been in you guys learning the system, but do you feel comfortable in the way the coaches want you to play or is that still a work in progress? Yeah, I think it is. And I mean, until you get to that point where you’re kind of really buckled down and you feel that you’re able to smother teams, whether it’s through the neutral zone or in the way we forecheck, I think with so many guys in and out it hasn’t been that easy to really nail that stuff down. But we’re getting some more practice time here with guys coming back and that’ll help. But it’s still a long season. Still a lot of time left and it’s still a process and you’ve got to continue to work on that stuff.
Despite everything you guys faced through the first half, you’re still right near the top of the division and in the top-10 of a lot of statistical team categories. What does that say about the mental state and character of this group? I think when you’re challenged like that, when you’re faced with adversity, you want to see how your team responds. We do have a lot of new faces, whether it be guys who came from Wilkes-Barre or guys just added to the team this year. So I think all that stuff, having to go through that and kind of gel together and facing that stuff pretty early was a good test for us. And hopefully it’s something that can help us further down the road.
Describe what you’ve seen from each new member of management and the coaching staff. Mike (Johnston) is pretty calm. I think it’s easy to get emotional and you want to have that intensity, but you know when your coach has that sense of calm and that confidence, that quiet confidence, I think that helps everybody. So I think that’s been something that has helped us that way.
With ‘Tocc’ (Rick Tocchet), he kind of brings more of the emotional side of things and gets guys amped up and stuff. ‘Ags’ (Gary Agnew), same thing. He’s a guy who comes in every day and is full of energy and that’s what you want. You want your coaches to be happy to come to the rink and bring that energy, and I think they definitely do that.
With Jim (Rutherford), he’s been around a bit and he’s someone I think with everything that’s happened, he deserves a lot of credit. There’s a lot of moving parts here and he’s done a good job of bringing everything together.
I still see Billy (Guerin) as my teammate, in a way (laughs) but I do understand that he’s got new responsibilities and I’m sure that it’s a new challenge for him. As you are (happy with challenges) as a player, I think even now that he’s in management I’m sure he’s happy with that challenge and enjoying kind of a new thing. And he’s done a great job with that. Obviously he’s a great communicator, so I think it’s a pretty easy transition for him for that.