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 Kris Letang.
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?
I think we’re starting to show it, but I think it’s still a work in progress. Over the years, you always improve. That’s why good teams have the same coach for a long time. They all learn, all together. So it’s been only three, four months. It’s still a learning process. We can still get way better. The identity is going to follow that.
What does this team still need to work on? I think the possession. We’re still having some habits of the old system. When we feel squeezed, we don’t hold onto the puck. Those are things that you started to see more, but it’s not perfect yet. There’s other things. The power play, it was great at the beginning of the year, now it’s slowed down. We’re trying to get it back up, but it’s tons of things. It’s the whole system that needs to be perfected.
That being said, you guys are still in the top-10 of so many team categories despite everything that’s been going on. Why do you think that is? I think we’ve been playing better defensively. I think with our possession, we didn’t allow teams to spend that much time in our zone and Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury)’s play has just been unbelievable. He doesn’t need to (make scrambling saves) now because he’s in such good position. Once in a while, it’s fun to see him doing that because you need desperation at some point of the game and you’ve got to have those saves from Flower, but I think initial saves, he’s more square in his net.
How different does it feel, if at all, in terms of the atmosphere? It’s different. I think one of the first things they said in our meetings at the beginning, I think it was Jim (Rutherford), he came in and he said I want to see smiles on the faces of all the guys and I want the guys to come to the rink and have fun, and in the game having fun, enjoying every moment of it. That’s why you can see it’s looser here.
A few guys talked about how much pressure they felt during the playoffs last year, and while I know you can’t necessarily speak to that until the postseason starts, does that burden feel any lesser this year? It’s the same pressure. We want to win, there’s no doubt in our mind that we’re not just trying to be in the playoffs – we want to win. At the end of the day, it’s just how it feels is different.
What do you like the most about the coaching staff? Honestly, as a whole group, they’ve kind of been trying to address the fact that we have to use our heads, use our reads, be confident in ourselves. I think that’s the main thing. It’s not always playing the same way so you try to reduce percentage. It’s more of reading and trying to be a better player.