Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 05/14/08 at 04:34 PM ET
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien and Philadelphia Flyers coach John Stevens were both available for some questions today.
Below are the transcripts from their respective Q&A sessions.
Q. Can you give us your thoughts on changing the line and what you’re hoping to get out of that?
COACH STEVENS: Which line?
Q. Well, I meant to say lines.
COACH STEVENS: Well, it’s just something I wanted to look at in practice. Richie and Danny have had an awful lot of success together this year. Mind you, mostly on the power play, but they’re two of the best offensive players on our team and in the league. Two of the leaders on our hockey team for years to come, so we thought we’d give it a look and there’s a good chance you’ll see it tomorrow.
Vinny’s natural position is center ice. He played one of our best games of the year with him at center ice late in the year. He’s a great distributor of the hockey puck. He’s been very good on face‑offs. Doesn’t have to play the game from the standstill. I like what I saw today. Tomorrow, I’m not sure, but I’m leaning that way.
Q. Adversity is nothing new to this team, what is the mindset looking ahead to Game 4?
COACH STEVENS: First of all, the mood, I mean, I love the enthusiasm of the team. It seems like the questions come around, and it’s like, oh, no. I mean, we’re down 3‑0. It is what it is. We’ve been outplayed by Pittsburgh in this series, and we need to play better.
I think the effort’s been there, but the execution hasn’t. We gave up a lot of chances yesterday, but the chances you give up end up in your net. We allowed them to get the lead and play from behind. So that’s three games in a row, that’s part of the reason for the change.
You go three games in a row, two on the road, one at home. Deal with the match‑ups, and you have the luxury of being at home, and you’re still not creating enough. So a little bit of change. I love the enthusiasm today, and looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.
Q. Have you discussed with them either on the ice or in meetings today a different strategy to get the puck deep on this team? It’s been suggested that it could be a simple one of getting it over their heads and into the zone.
COACH STEVENS: An aerial attack (laughing).
COACH STEVENS: Believe it or not, I went to a coaching clinic one time and one guy presented on the aerial attack. So I’m going to have to go get my notes out from that one, but.
I do think there are some things we can do from our tactical approach. I think there are some things we can do from an execution approach. But there is no question we have to do a better job of getting pucks in, and doing a better job of protecting the puck and working the cycle.
We’ve done it at times. We’ve created some chances. If you look at the chances in the game there, they’re almost even. But if you look at the puck possession time, I think, it’s tilted in their favor.
It’s up to us to play a simple game, and play it on their side of the red line. I think it will go a long way to helping us. We’ve got to take some speed off their attack. At times last night they came in with way too much speed. They don’t need many chances to score.
They’re committed defensively right now. So when they get the lead, they’re as good at protecting the lead as any team we’ve seen right now. It’s important for us to get off to a good start and play even and try to get the lead.
Q. Braydon was able to open his eye on his own today. Any more optimism he will be able to go tomorrow?
COACH STEVENS: Sure, it was great to see him out there skating. It’s obviously a step in the right direction. I’m going to sit down with Jimmy. I think it will be one of those things where we have to wait till tomorrow and see how he feels after being on the ice today and see how he progresses. He’s still up in the air right now. Can’t really make a commitment either way whether he’s ready or not.
Q. You saw the Rangers come back and make some adjustments for Game 5, and they did pretty well in Game 6. Did you watch any of that? Did you see what they did differently?
COACH STEVENS: I think if you look at the Rangers series, it was kind of the same thing. It was kind of a patient hockey game. It wasn’t like games were tight, 2‑0. They had the one game where they got the lead and held on to it. The other game still was tight. They caught a break and scored a goal, and it was kind of a broken play, so.
There’s a lot of pull and tug going on in the series. There wasn’t a lot of offensive opportunity in there when I watched the series with the Rangers. It was a tight defensive battle. Rangers are a defensive team. Pittsburgh is more of a defensive team than people realize and very opportunistic.
So you obviously want to try to eliminate the puck time that the guys in the middle have it. I think we can do some different things on our forecheck that might help us there. But, again, it’s just better execution on our part.
You know, with the game plan if we were executed perfectly, I think you might look at really changing things that are trying to get done. I just think we haven’t played at the level individually or collectively that we had previously in the playoffs. But I think we’re playing a better opponent. Pittsburgh’s the best team we’ve seen yet.
Q. This team’s come a long way, obviously. Will you remind them of that before tomorrow night? Or do you not want them thinking about where they’ve been as opposed to where they want to go or is there something to draw on from where this team has come?
COACH STEVENS: Well, to be honest with you, I’d rather not right now. I don’t want our guys feeling content with what’s gone on this year. I think that would be the wrong approach. I don’t think you can ever be satisfied whether individually or collectively that we got in the playoffs. We won a couple rounds. I mean, fact of the matter is we have an opportunity to keep playing here, and that’s what we need to focus on.
It really doesn’t matter right now what’s happening this year. It will moving forward, but right now it’s kind of insignificant. We want to keep playing, and we need to win one game. That’s our focus right now. It’s not the series. It’s the game.
We need to go in and try to win a hockey game. We want to keep playing, and we’ve got to win a hockey game in order to do that.
Q. Steve Downie said on Petr Sykora, was that warranted, clean? What did you think of it?
COACH STEVENS: Steve Downie? You know, I didn’t see it again, I’m not sure which one you’re talking about. Was that after they scored?
COACH STEVENS: You know, I didn’t see it again. But let’s not pick on Steve Downie. There’s lots of plays in the hockey game, and things happen. And Malkin had an elbow on Danny there. It’s just part of the game.
It’s a physical game, Steve’s a physical player. I don’t think we need to single him out for anything that happened. There are other things that have gone on in the hockey game that are have equally been a part of the game as Steve played the game.
Q. What can you do from a disappointment standpoint, letting them know the disappointment of being down 3‑0? What can you do then to just worry about that one game and sort of forget what’s happened before?
COACH STEVENS: Well, just today before we practiced today we shaked some of the somber mood out of our system. I thought we did that. I thought guys were jumping today. Good enthusiasm. Execution was good.
You can’t feel sorry for yourselves. I mean, we’ve said it all year, we can’t look outside the locker room. There’s nobody outside the locker room that is going to help us. There’s nobody outside the locker room to blame. It’s all of us inside the locker room that need to play better.
I think we’re excited for the opportunity to get out and play again. And we’re excited for the opportunity to try to play our best game. That’s what we’re going to need to beat Pittsburgh. We’re going to have to have our best game that we’ve played yet. We’re capable of it, we’ve just got to bring it tomorrow.
Q. Sid was talking about how the series could be the opposite of what it is right now, bounces or just not as lopsided as it seems when you look at it being 3‑0. Do you like that mentality that your players have, that they haven’t lost maybe the perspective of how hard it is to be where they are? It isn’t as easy as it looks?
COACH THERRIEN: When you get to the playoffs, they’re all tough games. I believe yesterday we got some breaks. The first goal was a break. You need breaks in the playoffs, but if you stick to the plan, if your work ethic is there and you do the right thing and you’re disciplined, most of the time you’re going to get those breaks. But there’s no doubt there’s times we’ve got breaks and it’s helped to win some hockey games.
But I like the mentality of the players. They’re never satisfied. And for us, nothing changed. You know, we try to concentrate about the way we can play. We try to concentrate about taking one game at a time, and we don’t want to look at the picture. It’s tomorrow night. Yesterday we’re concentrating about yesterday. Now we won that game. We’re in good position. We’re pleased with our position right now in the series. But tomorrow we understand it’s a cliche, but it’s going to be a tough game to play.
They’re going to be desperate. But in the meantime for us we’re going to focus on what we have to do.
Q. I went back today and looked at your famous tirade from two and a half years ago when you were early on behind the bench here. And what you said that night kind of proved to be somewhat prophetic with lack of defensive commitment and so on. How far has this team come since then?
COACH THERRIEN: Well, when I came to Pittsburgh, the team was in last place. And there was no commitment at all. When you’re in last place, there is a reason. I believe they got some good players at times, really good players.
But the commitment, not only defensively, but the all‑around commitment was not there. And if you want to have some success, we had a change everything, the attitude, work ethic, and commitment, because we weren’t going ‑‑ we were going the wrong way. Pretty simple.
When I got there, I tried to be positive a lot with the players. And that was, after a month, it was the same result. So how long I was going to wait? And I decided to be, at that time, I decided to be tough with the hard way, and it’s never fun. It’s never easy. It’s not fun when you have to breakdown mentality of a team. It’s not a fun thing. But look at where we are right now, and pleased that we did it that way.
We’ll try to change the mentality of everyone, because to be a winner, it’s tough. It’s demanding to be winners. I believe right now we’re starting to be recognized as winners.
Q. Can you talk about the change in Marc‑Andre’s game since you started working with him? And is he now becoming or has he become one of the game’s elite goaltenders especially during these post‑season playoffs?
COACH THERRIEN: Well, Marc‑Andre Fleury, this is the best I’ve seen him play in the NHL. Even though he’s only 23 years old, he went through some experience through his career right now, and he gained experience with some ups and downs. This is how you gain experience.
He got some good moments in his early stage, and he went through some tough times as well. But right now, I think with that little experience that he’s got, it’s helping him to have that success. The game slowed down in front of him. He’s more in control. Controls his rebounds. He doesn’t have to make those spectacular saves like he tried to do early on in his career. And that’s a great sign.
You look at great goalies, the Marty Brodeurs, the Patrick Roys, all are pretty easy for them because they’re always in good possession. And they see the plate a lot in front of them. And Marc‑Andre, I think is right there with those, the Brodeurs and Patrick Roy. But definitely he’s going through that direction, and that’s a good sign for a young goalie.
Q. The game after your speech about your defense, you went to Columbus and lost by a lopsided score. Were you, at that point did you say, oh, my goodness, what have I done? They’re playing even worse than they did against Edmonton?
COACH THERRIEN: You know what, that was the first. Sometimes you can’t judge a team with results. The next game, they looked like a team. They looked like they cared. And even if we lost that game, it took us some time to get results, but that was the little light at the end of the tunnel. I started to see it that day, the next game. They showed a little bit more character during that game, and, honestly, I remember that game like we just played yesterday. But that was the first step to get where we are right now.
Sometimes you’ve got to do those things. But that was, I would say, the game in Columbus, that was the first step.
Q. Back to Marc‑Andre real quick. Was one of the best things that happened to him when he came back from his injury, he had to compete for his job with Ty? Was that he had to show you that he deserved to be in net?
COACH THERRIEN: There’s no doubt. Because Marc‑Andre’s the first pick overall. We give him the number one job. He didn’t have much competition to be the number one guy. Because we’ve got faith in him, and we know what he’s capable of doing, and we want to work with him.
Due to the injuries that he got this year by the way that Ty Conklin played, we have a lot of respect for Ty. He was phenomenal. He’s one of the reasons why we made the playoffs. If it wouldn’t have been from Conklin, maybe we wouldn’t make the playoffs.
So, Ty was playing pretty well when Marc‑Andre was ready to play. But we decided to send him down to the minors. He was healthy enough to play. And that gave us a chance to send Marc‑Andre to the minors and work on his game. When he came back, we didn’t give him the net right away. We wanted him to earn it. For the first time in his NHL career, he had to earn it. He had to fight to get that job.
This is what you’re looking for from your team. Not only your goalie, your defenseman and your forward. You want to have some inside competition. Inside competition is always, I believe, a good thing. Because it forces the athlete to perform and make sure that they’re not losing their job.
Q. The trade deadline deal that this team has made has obviously worked out and paid dividends. But was there ever a time that you were worried that the trades that were made would not get you to this point? Trades that are made don’t always work out. Was there ever a time that you were worried that these were not?
COACH THERRIEN: Well, lot of credit to Ray Shero first of all. He did a fantastic job. Before the trading deadline, we had meetings and we were looking for the needs of this hockey team. Like all the team was battling to make the playoffs, and all that stuff. But he found the right way to make those deals.
When you’re capable to make those deals, first of all, it gives confidence to the players and to the team that the organization gives a tap on the back and we’ve got your support. We want to win. We don’t want to win in two, three years. And that was big for a young team. That was probably the first time they were saying like we’ve got the players. We believe in you guys and you guys did a great job so far. We’re missing a few pieces of the puzzle, and Ray Shero certainly with his staff did a great job to have those pieces to the puzzle to the team. It definitely brought a lot of confidence to the team.
Q. You talk about that first step of them going to that defensive process, and learning that. Not only have they bought in because you told them to do it. They bought in because they believe in it and seem to take pride in the defense as well. Can you talk about the maturation process from that first step till now?
COACH THERRIEN: We talk about before every game, about the defensive game at the first day of training camp. That’s a process. It takes time. It doesn’t come naturally, especially with skilled players. But they buy into it. This is why they understand, and they play well defensively. They stick to the plan the way we try to play our system. Well, they’re going to get rewards.
It’s not about not playing well without the puck. We try to teach the young guys to play well when they have the puck, too. We talk about puck management, it’s really crucial for us, and where to position themselves on the ice. But the players really, really buy in. Even at this time of the year when they see the guys on the bench see one of the guys on the ice not doing the job, they know right away. And the players let the players know that you’re not doing the right thing.
So just to show maturity for such a young team, usually you’re going to see that with veteran players. But you heard the comment of guys that are 20 years old, 21 years old saying you shouldn’t have been there. You didn’t do the right thing there. So that is leadership as far as I’m concerned.
Q. You talked about how mentally the trades helped the team in their mindset. Just talk a little about how good Gill and Hossa have been on the ice in the playoffs?
COACH THERRIEN: Well, they’ve been great. You know, it’s like a guy like Hossa always has been a little bit criticized about his playoff performance in the past. Right now he’s playing his best hockey in his career in the playoffs. And, you know what?
Sometimes it can be a fit. A player will fit well on a team how they play. How they play their system. Do they have the speed players to play with, play with that type of player. And I really believe that a guy like Hossa is the right fit for him. The way we try to play him. It’s the right fit to play with Crosby.
He’s having a great time right now. You can tell. He comes to the rink, he’s got such a great attitude. Gill the same thing, the way that we play him, I think it’s a great fit for him to be successful. He’s finally getting recognized that he’s a good shut down guy. He’s killing penalties really well. And Pascal Dupuis, as well. All those three guys that we brought in, it’s a great fit for a team. But sometimes, you know, you could bring in some players that’s not the right fit. But right now with those three guys, it’s just a perfect fit for our needs.
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