Hockey Just Around the Corner
PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby’s jaw is fully healed. His head is clear. For the first time in three years, the Pittsburgh Penguins star arrived for training camp with no questions to face other than how he plans to move beyond his team’s four-game flop against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Not exactly the happiest topic, sure. But hey, it beats talking about concussions or dental work, issues that have plagued Crosby since New Year’s Day 2011.
The lockout-shortened 2012-13 season combined with an early start due to the Olympics made for a pretty short summer. That’s just fine for the player only too happy to move past the debacle versus Boston, a series in which the Penguins never led.
“I think you have to get over it pretty quickly and realize it’s a long season ahead of us and we’ve got to learn from that but obviously you can’t dwell on it,” Crosby said. “I think we’ve moved on.”
With the same cast along for the ride.
While other teams blew it up in the offseason, the Penguins decided to keep together the core that led the franchise to the best record in the East during the strike-shortened 2012-13 season. Former Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and winger Chris Kunitz signed contract extensions. Forward Pascal Dupuis decided against free agency to re-up for another four years in the city where he wants to finish his career.
Coach Dan Bylsma, who received the blunt of the criticism after Pittsburgh scored two goals in four games against the Bruins, had another two years tacked onto his deal in a very public vote of confidence from general manager Ray Shero.
The extension kickstarted a busy summer in which Bylsma accepted a job as the coach of Team USA in the Sochi Olympics. He estimated he has about “85 percent” of his pre-Olympic work done. The to-do list at his regular gig, though, is lengthy. The Penguins led the NHL in goals last season and won two rounds in the playoffs for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 before being shut down completely by the Bruins.
Tweaking a system to find something that works when things get tight will be the focus when the Penguins take the ice for the first time today.
“We’re not going to shy away from (losing) and looking at ways we came up short and what we need to do better as a team,” Bylsma said. “That’s not something we’re looking to do April 20 when the playoffs come around, it’s something we have to do as a team. It starts right now in training camp.”
The Penguins went “all-in” last season at the trade deadline, acquiring Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen in hopes of raising the Cup for the fourth time in team history. The dressing room had barely emptied after falling to Boston when all but Jokinen bolted. Iginla signed with the Bruins in free agency while Murray moved on to Montreal and Morrow was allowed to walk.
Pittsburgh addressed Murray’s departure by bringing back defenseman Rob Scuderi. The veteran helped Pittsburgh win it all in 2009 and sprinted back to his former team when Shero approached him about a possible return.
“It was impossible to say no, especially with the history I have with these guys,” Scuderi said. “I couldn’t say no.”
The addition of Scuderi should help a defense that appeared leaky at times. Then again, so did the play in goal, where Marc-Andre Fleury gave way to backup Tomas Vokoun in the playoffs. Bylsma insists there is no controversy heading into the season. Fleury worked with a sports psychologist in the offseason and is entrenched as the No. 1 until further notice.
Bylsma stressed he believes the Penguins have the “best tandem in the league” while promising Fleury will handle the “majority” of the workload.
That faith is echoed by Fleury’s teammates.
“I don’t think anybody’s worried in here,” Crosby said. “I think he’s had a lot of scrutiny. As a teammate we believe in him and he believes in himself. We don’t have any problems.”