Penguins back to basics as cameras, lights fade
Share with others:
The Penguins aren't sharing whirlpools with an HBO camera crew anymore.
Heinz Field has gone back to being a football stadium.
And the next time any of the Penguins skate outdoors, it likely won't be in anything more competitive than a family outing.
With the Winter Classic and all of its trappings and distractions now nothing more than a memory, the final three-plus months of the Penguins' season figure to be significantly different from the past.
What can't be determined yet is how the team will handle the transition back to business as usual.
Will the players be relieved or disappointed that the spotlight in which they operate has been reduced to its customary wattage? Have a letdown or be grateful to slip into a more typical routine?
"There's definitely a trap there," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think everybody had fun with [the TV show and outdoors game]. But from what I've heard, everyone was ready to move on and get it over with."
But while the Penguins speak optimistically about not sagging in the near future, no one can know for sure how they will perform in coming days.
"I think it's up to us to make sure that we don't have that letdown," defenseman Paul Martin said. "That we come out ready to play against Tampa Bay [Wednesday]."
To a man, the Penguins agreed that having a few days to decompress from all of the unusual issues with which they'd been dealing -- from HBO to the outdoors game to family visiting for the holidays -- should work to their benefit. Having to play the Lightning Monday night, just 48 hours after their 3-1 loss to Washington at Heinz Field, several suggested, would have been daunting.
"I think that makes a big difference, as opposing to playing after a one-day break," Martin said. "It's nice to have a couple of days to let that clear, then go ahead and focus on Tampa."
Coach Dan Bylsma cancelled practice Sunday so that his players could rest, recuperate and re-focus after being immersed in the hoopla (and waist-deep water) of the Winter Classic, but kept them on the ice for about 90 minutes Monday.
The final half-hour was devoted to a three-on-three scrimmage and shootout competition, but the first two-thirds of the session featured intense, down-to-business drills. If anyone had to be reminded that 42 regular-season games remain, that workout should have done it.
"It was important to have a really hard practice," Orpik said.
Bylsma didn't just put his players through a demanding workout; he broke out a couple of new forward combinations.
The No. 2 line had Jordan Staal between Evgeni Malkin and Tyler Kennedy, while Matt Cooke and Chris Conner flanked Mark Letestu on the No. 3 unit.
"[Kennedy] adds a disruption factor and a speed factor to a line that other guys on our team don't match," Bylsma said. "Speed on the forecheck, chasing the puck down, tenacity-wise, pursuing the puck. That's Tyler's strong suit, and that's what we're looking for."
Staal and Malkin have been united in an effort to generate offense; whether they can tap into whatever goal-scoring potential Kennedy has is unclear. Kennedy has five goals in 39 games, just one in his past 19.
Although Kennedy is a right winger by trade, he is penciled in on the left. That will allow Malkin to work on the right, which he prefers, even though Bylsma said he's willing to play either side.
"I actually prefer [Malkin] playing the right side and [Kennedy] playing the left in those situations," Bylsma said. "Given the way we play and some of the details we want in our game, it's not a bad thing to be on your off-side, so that's the way that line will look."
He offered those thoughts to a small group of local reporters, because HBO cameras no longer are stalking the Penguins, and no one is collecting information for NBC's Winter Classic telecast.
It was just like old times. And the Penguins didn't seem to object.
"It was fun," left winger Mike Rupp said. "I would love to do it again, from the Classic to the television cameras from HBO. But at the same time, it's a bit of a relief that they're gone, because we can do the thing that we're used to doing all the time.
"We don't have to worry about guys [wearing a microphone] for games. In the back of your mind, it's always there: 'OK, something might be on me right now.' I think it's going to be a bit of a relief."
First Published January 4, 2011 12:00 am