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The Inside Scoop: Game Day (Pens vs. Caps)

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
New Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan had a 1-on-1 conversation with his captain yesterday heading into his first game behind the bench tonight against Washington.

“(We spoke) briefly yesterday just as far as what he expects out of me individually and how he sees our team playing,” Sidney Crosby said. “It was a lot of the same things that he said to us as a group. I think it’s a pretty consistent, clear message.”

That message is to play inspired hockey, as that’s a phrase many of the guys have used in the locker room in the last couple of days since the coaching change occurred on Saturday. Both Sullivan and his players have stressed that for now, the focus is on the process and not necessarily the result.

“Right now, his message to us was more about how we’re going to play,” Crosby said. “Not necessarily the X’s and O’s. Just making sure that we compete and give ourselves a chance.”

The Pens have a huge challenge ahead against a Caps team that’s one of the best in the NHL. They’re 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and have been dominant in every aspect of the game. But when I asked Crosby if the focus needed to be on themselves and not their opponent with everything that’s happened the last few days, he said, “yeah, definitely. That’s our focus and mindset.”

I asked also Crosby what his initial impressions were of Sullivan both as a coach and a person.

“I think he’s demanding,” Crosby replied. “I think that he wants things done a certain way,
like any coach. I think early on, everyone’s just trying to absorb everything and make sure that you’re doing things right.

“You just have to pay attention. Details are so important all the time, but especially with a coaching change mid-season. We’ve got to make sure we’re attentive and aware of the adjustments we need to make. And on top of that, we’ve got to be better. That’s something we all realize.”

Speaking of impressions, Crosby feels leaving a good first one on Sullivan will be key tonight.

“Everyone still feels like you have something to prove,” Crosby said. “With a new coach, you have to prove yourself again. So I think that’s basically the mindset.”

- In terms of coaching responsibilities, Sullivan said that he will oversee the power play, Jacques Martin will take the penalty kill and Rick Tocchet will work with the forwards and be responsible for the 5-on-5 prescout.

“That’s how we’ve defined the duties up to this point,” Sullivan said. “I know Jacques a little bit, I met him this summer at the draft when I was there as the Wilkes-Barre coach. Obviously have a ton of respect for what he’s accomplished in the game. He’s wore a lot of hats; he’s got a wealth of experience. ‘Tocc,’ I’ve known for a while. I played with Tocc, I coached with Tocc down in Tampa. Tocc and I have a relationship that goes back a long time.”

- While Sullivan told me he feels morning skates could be the most overrated thing in hockey, he’s forced to utilize them now because of the limited practice time the team has.

During the session, which started with breakouts (that’s the one thing Sullivan has tweaked strategy-wise: read more about that here) and ended with a stretch at center ice led by former Cap Eric Fehr, the Pens used the same lines they did in their last game on Friday against Los Angeles…



-  Crosby said that as of now, nothing has changed on the power play. They used the same top unit of him, Malkin, Kessel, Kunitz and Warsofsky during practice. For now, what Sullivan wants to impress upon those guys is that they can’t look for the perfect play.

“There’s a lot of talent on the one unit,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes when you get that much skill on one unit, they want to pass the puck in the net. When you look around the league and the power plays that have success, they have a 5-on-5 mindset as far retrieving pucks but they’re willing to shoot it as well.

“I think that we have to move the puck. We have to establish a shot. We have to get people in front and we have to retrieve. If we do those things then I think seams will open up, opportunities will open up and then those players can act on their instincts.”

FEHR FACES FORMER FRIENDS (like the alliteration there?)
- While tonight won’t be Fehr’s first game against his former team, it will be his first time on the other side of the Pens-Caps rivalry.

“It’s definitely a game you want to win,” said Fehr, who played all but one season of his career in Washington entering this year. “A lot of friends over there, but today is a big game for us.”

The 30-year-old forward was sidelined for the first meeting in Washington, a 3-1 Pittsburgh win, while recovering from elbow surgery in the offseason.

“It was tough last game not being able to play,” Fehr said. “But we’re going to get a lot of opportunities here over the next couple of years to play there.”

Fehr played a major role in the Capitals’ 3-1 record against the Penguins last season, scoring three goals – two of which were scored at CONSOL Energy Center – and totaling seven points.

“I want to score goals in those games just like I did on the other side,” Fehr said. “CONSOL Energy Center is obviously the home barn now. I just want to continue to play well, score some goals and feel comfortable here.”

While it will be a rivalry on the ice tonight, Fehr did have a chance to catch up with some former teammates last night.  

“I had a couple of the guys over for supper,” Fehr said. “Just good to see some familiar faces. But today it’s all business.”

“We have to play a similar way without giving up the odd-man rush chances that we’ve been giving up recently in the last two games. It’s a lot of the same stuff. Playing that inspired hockey and trying to compete for your teammates, your linemates and come out with a win.”

(NOTE: This section was written by Joseph Guzy)
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