Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 05/07/08 at 05:47 PM ET
Today, the NHL set up a series of conference calls with the media, in part featuring:
- Ryan Malone—Pittsburgh Penguins, Left Wing
- Michel Therrien—Pittsburgh Penguins, Coach
The transcripts of their individual Q&A sessions are available below.
Q. Your goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, before the playoffs, the critics had some question marks about what he would deliver for you guys. So far that speaks for itself. What do the guys in the room feel about Marc-Andre right now?
RYAN MALONE: They feel great and confident. I mean, me and Flower broke into the league together about four years ago. I think especially this year, you can add Brooks Orpik in there, too. I think we all kind of figured out what it took, how consistent you have to play. Flower from day one’s always been staying after in practice, getting out there early, he battles on every shot in practice. So you knew this guy was going to be a great goaltender.
It’s nice to see things working out so far in the playoffs.
Q. Born and raised in Pittsburgh. I’m sure you have a lot of appreciation for the team’s history. Your father played for the team for several years. Can you talk about what this means to you to be a part of history and how important it would be for this team, for Pittsburgh, to go forward and do real well here in the next round or two?
RYAN MALONE: It’s honestly crazy. I think I pinch myself every morning. I was in the stands in the early ‘90s watching them win the Cups. To be part of this now is unbelievable. Every day pulling the sweater on, you’re privileged and honored.
To get where we’re at now, from my first year in the league to how we rebuild the team, Craig did a great job of putting the pieces in place, then Ray obviously added his guys. But, you know, to see the team turn around like this in a couple years is great. You’re just excited and can’t wait for Friday to start it.
Q. I’m sure you probably hung around the locker room as a kid when your dad was playing. Can you talk about those experiences.
RYAN MALONE: Oh, definitely. I think me and my younger brother, we were always around any day we had school off. My dad might sneak us out to get on the ice with the guys maybe after practice. We grew up with Ron used Mark Recchi’s hockey stick, Jaromir Jagr’s hockey stick growing up.
When I first came to the team here, the same training staff. Craig was the GM. I grew up with his kid. Eddie Johnson had a kid here that was my age. Joey Mullen had a couple kids we were close with. It was weird and comfortable I guess at the same time making the team and being part of the team.
You know, I grew up pulling the sweater on from day one. Hopefully I can continue to pull it over for a long time.
Q. Can you talk, do you feel like this series is pretty evenly matched overall, even though it is a 2 versus a 6? How do you slow down a team that’s knocked off the No. 1 and 3 seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs so far?
RYAN MALONE: I think we match up pretty evenly. We know what they bring to the table. We know what we bring to the table. They wouldn’t be in the situation if it wasn’t for the great team they have. We definitely respect them.
It’s gonna be a battle. It’s gonna be fun. I think as a hockey player, these are the games you want to be a part of. For the fans, it’s going to be something to watch. I can only assume so.
I think everyone’s just excited. We just can’t wait till the puck drops on Friday.
Q. You’re from Pittsburgh, as R.J. Umberger. Is there a special rivalry between you two guys? Are you surprised by his success in these playoffs?
RYAN MALONE: I grew up on kind of the other side of the city. Maybe my junior year of high school, our team didn’t really even play their team, and he was already moving on to the USA development teams, I believe.
But being from Pittsburgh, you keep your eye on guys that end up getting drafted. I believe he’s been the highest draft pick from Pittsburgh.
Then to comment on his playoffs, I mean, he definitely was pretty hot last year, that’s for sure. So hopefully we can slow him down a little bit.
You know, being from Pittsburgh, you want to see other guys do well - just not against us.
Q. Your team has played the fewest games of the four remaining. How did the club deal with the layoff between each series, and in particular your upcoming series with Philly?
RYAN MALONE: Well, I think Philly has the same amount of days, maybe a day more than us. But I think it’s a perfect amount. You kind of get a day off, day to get back into it. We have two good practices here before Friday. So I think it worked out, you know, perfect.
Coming from college, that’s kind of the schedule you’re used to where you have all week to kind of get ready for a team for the weekend. But obviously it’s a little different than that. But you prepare yourself the same way, get in the gym a couple times, make sure you’re ready for a long, hard series.
Q. Do you feel the team needs to experience adversity before it can fully appreciate success as your team is having this season?
RYAN MALONE: I hope not. I think we went through a lot of adversity during the regular season. Even the first Ranger game we were down 3-0. You know, the last Ranger game, we were up 2-0 and they came back. I thought the guys stayed strong, stayed confident, believed in each other.
Hopefully we don’t see too much adversity. It’s the playoffs. I’m sure you’re gonna see it sooner or later. We got to make sure we stick together and keep our faith and keep our confidence.
Q. Looking at the Penguins, you have a number of players who are going to be UFAs next year, including yourself. Is there much talk amongst the guys about having to get it done this year because this group might not be together next year?
RYAN MALONE: No. I don’t think anyone has really mentioned it. I think we all maybe realize it or see it through the media and whatnot. But it’s never been brought up.
I think everyone’s worried about winning. I mean, that’s the biggest thing, is the team wants to win. I think the great thing about the group of guys we have is everyone’s doing it for each other, and everyone’s doing their role the best they can. Everyone’s trying to be the difference out there. That’s what I think makes the team successful, is when everyone is trying to be the difference-maker.
Q. How good is Evgeni Malkin’s English? Is his English okay?
RYAN MALONE: His English is okay. He kind of understands. Especially if I say something, he can repeat it pretty good. So, you know, hopefully next year, he’ll start doing more interviews. Hopefully maybe he’ll do one later on this year for you guys.
Q. You had a difficult time last year in the playoffs. What did you learn from that experience that you’ve been able to take and be so successful this time around?
RYAN MALONE: I think just how really simple you have to play. Ottawa kept the puck moving forward, shot everything on net, just kept their feet moving was the big thing. Those first 10 minutes of Game 1, felt like they had 10 guys on the ice for everybody on our team (laughter). They were flying around.
But, you know, they kept it really simple. I think that’s the key, is you don’t want to try to beat too many guys one-on-one. You can leave that up to Gino and Sid and Hoss, being around those guys. Most of us, just try to keep it simple, keep the feet moving. Really when you’re in one-on-one battles, I think all those little things go a long way, especially in the playoffs.
Q. Were you a little overwhelmed? What was that overwhelming feeling like in the first game last year?
RYAN MALONE: I think everyone was just like, All right, this is what playoffs is, we got to get going here. I think we did a better job of turning it around in Game 2. We had the one game at home. I couldn’t remember if it was three or four we were close to winning, maybe could turn the series. They ended up finding a way to win.
I think also if you look at the playoffs so far this year, the teams, you got to be lucky and get some bounces, you got to get some calls. It really comes down to maybe that one power-play or that one penalty against you that might end up costing you. It’s really those little fine details that might put you over the hump.
So I think everyone is doing a good job of paying attention to those.
Q. Pretty simple question. How soon until the hate kicks in between these two teams?
RYAN MALONE: Probably right when the puck drops, I think (laughter). The first shift there, I know the fans in Pittsburgh here will be crazy. We’ll all be jacked up, ready to go. You know, the first hit, then after that the rest will be history I think. It’s going to be a fun series for everybody. Everyone’s excited to get going. I’m sure the Philly guys are excited. You know, why not beat each other up a little bit to get on to the next round?
Q. Obviously you’re going to target Sidney and Malkin. How do you respond? You’re on one of the top units. Will you keep your eye out, paying extra special attention?
RYAN MALONE: Yeah, a little bit. Some guys are a little cheaper than other guys. There’s no names involved, but (laughter). You always want to make sure you’re watching your star players. You know they’re going to go out there and finish their checks. You want to make sure they’re keeping it as clean as possible.
It’s when they start whacking ‘em, (indiscernible) them, other things like that, that kind of brings the other attention. It’s my job and other guys on the team that you try to limit those extra whacks if you can. But you got to make sure at the end of the night you’re getting the W. So you don’t want to put yourself or your team in a bad position, so you got to be smart about it, as well. Should be interesting to see what happens.
Q. We had Jarkko Ruutu in Vancouver for about five years. Is there anybody on the Penguins who can out-talk Jarkko Ruutu?
RYAN MALONE: Gill maybe. Picked him up. He can talk in the locker room anyway (laughter). On the ice, Ruut is great at what he does. Obviously you know what he does, how valuable it is to any team. He’s a big part of our team. I think we have a lot of pieces that make us a great hockey club. He’s definitely a big piece of that.
Q. Just wondering about Ryan Malone, how you’ve seen his growth from last year’s playoffs to this year.
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, like a lot of players, Ryan grew really well with our team. He’s been with us like for four years, I believe. He’s doing a fantastic job. He’s having a huge role with us. He’s a guy who is playing on our top two lines. This is a guy that is playing on the first unit of a power-play. This is a guy who is killing penalties.
He became almost a complete player. That was the plan, to work with him since last year. Certainly he’s a big part of the success of this hockey team.
Q. Did you notice in the first-round series against Ottawa last year he looked maybe overwhelmed or caught up in the moment versus how he looks this year, a little more like he knows what’s going on?
MICHEL THERRIEN: You know what, and the rest of our team. Not only Ryan last year, it was like 15 guys who had their first experience to the NHL. It’s not easy when you’re facing your first test in the playoffs. He was part of them. Learned a lot from last year.
When we approached the playoffs, having home-ice advantage was a big factor for us this year. There’s no doubt that he matured through the course of the season with the experience that we got from last year.
Q. There are people that still questioned Marc-Andre before the playoffs started a month ago. Probably don’t any more. Your thoughts on your young goalie and his development this year, Marc-Andre Fleury?
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, one thing we can’t forget about Marc-Andre, he’s only 23 years old and he went through a lot of experience since he turned pro. Just before he got hurt, he was playing really well. For the first time when he came back since he’s in the NHL, he’s got to fight back for his job because Conklin, the way he was playing, he was phenomenal. So that give us a chance to send Marc-Andre back to the minors, get his timing back.
When he came in, we didn’t give him the net right away because, the number one reason, how Ty Conklin was playing for us. So he fight for it. He deserve it. You know what, the last 15 games of the regular season, if you compare the stats from all the goalies, he was the best goalie with the stats, goals-against average, save percentage. That’s why at that moment I felt really comfortable with Marc-Andre with the way he finished the year. That’s why we were confident about him with his performance in the playoffs.
Right now he played well against Ottawa. He played extremely well against the Rangers. So that’s why we optimistic with Fleury right now.
Q. Your thoughts on Martin Biron? This is his first-ever playoffs, even though he’s a more veteran goalie than Marc-Andre. He’s had to answer some questions. He’s been pretty good for the Flyers.
MICHEL THERRIEN: You know what, this is a guy that finally get a chance to play in the playoffs. Always had good season in Buffalo. Played in front of good teams. Now he’s got a chance to play in the playoffs. Certainly he’s one of the reasons why the Flyers are still there.
We all know goaltending is a big part of it. He was phenomenal against Montréal. I watched all those games. He give their guys, his team, a chance to win game in, game out. That’s going to be a challenge for us to compete against him.
But you know what, Lundqvist was phenomenal for the Rangers. And Gerber, everybody was questioning Gerber before we started the playoffs, and he was playing his best hockey. So we’re used to facing a hot goalie.
Q. You’re a Montréal guy. This is being billed as a Battle of Pennsylvania. How much have you tried to bring yourself up on the history of this rivalry, even the history of the Penguins going back?
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, you know what, I’ve been in Pennsylvania for five years now, being part of this organization. There’s always been a rivalry. Even when I was in Wilkes-Barre, the same thing for John Stevens, we’ve been battling together when we were in the American League. They got some good teams. We got some good teams when we were in the minors.
This year it’s no different. So they got a good team. I believe that we got a good team. We know what we’re talking about when we facing each other because we’ve been there. For me, like I said, it’s been five years, so I’m involved emotionally. The emotion, you always try to bring your best. Certainly it should be a really good and fun series to be part of.
Q. As you say, a lot of these guys have been playing against each other since they were in the minors. Has there gotten to be a pretty good rivalry built up between these players?
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, like you said, there’s a lot of guys been playing against each other the last few years - not only in the NHL, but in the minors, as well. You know what, when we’re talking about the rivalry, I believe it’s going to be a hard-nosed series. There’s too much to lose if you’re getting undisciplined. I think both teams know that. We got to make sure we control our emotion.
Q. You played the fewest games of the four remaining teams. How did you deal with the layoff between each round? Was it nice to have that break, gain the legs back? What was your feeling on the layoff?
MICHEL THERRIEN: I think it’s great. First of all, physically and emotionally. I think you get a chance to sweep the first round, get a chance to win the second round in five games gives a chance to the players to recuperate physically and mentally, too, as well. We all know they’re demanding games. They’re playoff games.
The Flyers, it took them seven games. They ended up playing Montréal. Montréal took seven games, as well. They will have some time off and recharge. I think it’s going to be pretty equal for the upcoming round.
But it gives us the chance to make sure we gonna be fresh. It gives the coaching staff a chance to really analyze the other team to make sure we’re gonna be well-prepared. I know we’re gonna be well-prepared, and I believe the Flyers will be well-prepared, as well.
It’s good for the players and it’s good for the coaching staff, as well.
Q. Do you feel the adversity that your team faced last season with the first-round elimination, this year, now with the success the team is having, you can really appreciate what’s going on here?
MICHEL THERRIEN: We certainly do appreciate it, the way we’ve been playing. One thing we work hard through the course of the season, with the adversity we face all season long, I remember there were times we got six, seven guys in our lineup from the minors. So that was adversity for us. Losing your best players, losing your No. 1 goalie, losing some important players in the lineup. So we faced adversity.
Like I told the players at that particular time, when we ended up losing Sid, if we could get out of this, we are going to end up being better because we’re going to get a chance to have different players with different roles. So when we get to the playoffs, that will be a really positive thing for our young club.
Right now we’re playing our best hockey. I really like the way we finished the year in the regular season. I really like the way we started the playoffs against Ottawa. Certainly that was a great challenge to play the New York Rangers. That was a great hockey team, demanding team to play against. Right now we’re at our best the way we’re playing right now.
Q. You said that you watched the Montréal/Flyers series. Were you surprised that Philadelphia won in five games?
MICHEL THERRIEN: Not really. How can I say this? Because Philly face adversity, too, as well, throughout the course of the season, they were battling to the end to make the playoff. But they’re a much better team when they get to the playoff with the adversity that they face with their players, injury. They make a good move at the end. They ended up picking up Prospal. That was a big addition for their team. When they ended up facing Montréal and Philly, that was two good hockey teams.
Obviously every time that the No. 1 seed gets eliminated in the second round, it’s always kind of a little bit surprising. But the way they played, they really deserve to be here right now.
Q. What type of tone do you want to set in the series? How important is it to set that tone early?
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, we’re going to try to take the same approach we took the first round. We’re going to try to play our game. That means intensity. That means hard work, playing tight, defensive hockey. We all know special teams is really important.
We do make a little adjustment about who would we play. But the focus, it’s on us, how we playing, how we playing Penguins hockey. We got to make sure we’re going to be on top of our game.
Q. Are you going to stick with the same defensive pairing that you had in the last series?
MICHEL THERRIEN: We’re going to wait and see.
Q. I was asking Ryan Malone how quickly the hate is going to start in this series. He said before the drop of the first puck. Clearly Philadelphia is a physical team. They’re going to be targeting certainly Crosby and Malkin. How do you prepare for something like that, or can you?
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, you know what, first of all, our top players are getting used to getting checked well. But that’s not any difference. Like for us, we’re going to check really well their best players, as well. That’s part of the game. This is something every team tries to pay attention to. We know they’re gonna target guys like Crosby and Malkin and Hossa and Sykora and all those type of players. But that’s fine. That’s playoff. Ottawa try to do that. The Rangers tried to did that.
But we try to do the same thing on the other team. Like last game, we wanted to play really tight guys against Jagr. In the first round we tried to play really tight Spezza and Heatley. You always got to be aware when those type of players are on the ice. They have a few players we’re really going to have to pay attention to.
Q. How important is how Gill been to you guys? At the trade deadline it was not a very much talked about deal. He’s played quite well for you in the playoffs.
MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, that was a huge addition for us. We’re targeting some specific assets of our team that we try to get improved. A guy like Hal Gill was fitting exactly what we were looking for. We’ll try to get better with our penalty killing. We’re trying to get better with adding some more depth to our defensive squad. At the trading deadline, Ray Shero did a fantastic job to get a chance to give us guys like Hal Gill. He’s been terrific with us. He’s a good home defenseman. Really tough to play against. Got a good reach. Can be really physical around the net. We all know there’s a lot of goals scored around that net. That was a great addition.
What can we say about Hossa and Pascal Dupuis? All those guys are killing penalty first of all. Having Hossa to be able to play with Crosby has been a key factor for us, there’s no doubt.
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