Penguins Report: Fond Farewell (Game Day vs. NY Islanders)
Thursday, 04.8.2010 / 10:25 AM ET / Penguins Report
By Sam Kasan
AROUND THE RINK (MELLON ARENA EDITION)
Sounds heard around the locker room:
On the show of appreciation to the alumni:
The staff got to talk to the alumni last night a little bit. The players were aware of some of the guys that were up there. We just wanted to acknowledge and tip our hats. There are a lot of great stories, a lot of great guys and hockey players, history, so yes we tipped our sticks to them today.
On how he feels having played with some of the alumni:
Occasionally when you play against a guy like Billy Guerin you hear an old comment. I always think it’s a privilege or an hour to be old in the game. If I am old then I am honored and privileged to be in the game and around long enough to be seen that way.
On how to play the last three games against non-playoff teams:
I think the message is the same right now as it was on Game 1. We talked about our opponent, being aware of our opponent, the situation, what they do on the ice. But it’s about playing our game and getting to our game, dictating over the course of 60 minutes. That’s probably our biggest challenge right now in evaluating what our team needs to get better at and what we need to improve on. The last three games isn’t a lot different no matter who we play and what their situation is. This is more about ourselves and our game. We tried the last five games to put players in certain roles, and their getting ready for those types of roles on the ice once we get into the playoffs. We’ve done a little bit more than that. Last game, without Geno, we left the Staal line together and didn’t put Jordan at second-line center because we want him to focus on playing that same type of role as he would in the playoffs. That’s part of our focus for the team, and getting to our game is a big aspect of the last three games.
On how to motivate a team that isn’t playing for its life:
You could have a conversation go a lot of different directions, depending on who you talk to, about this. There is a feeling from some people, who’ve experienced this in the past, that you’re not going to get that desperation until it’s playoff time. They’ve won, gotten to the Finals and won a lot of games, that type of conversation. They need to get to that level to play that way in the playoffs. You have to have success against New Jersey to play well against them in the playoffs. There is some concern there. My feeling is that the playoffs are all about winning. That will be a factor when we get there. That will erase whatever we talk about today. As a coach, we’re trying to get to our level, our A game, and we’re trying to get to it for 60 minutes. We’re trying to establish that and have it as our identity. We want to know exactly what that is when we get there. We’re focusing on playing that way. I’ll be more confident having played well and played our style of hockey for the next three games if we don’t. But when we get to the playoffs, it’s going to be all about getting to that first game.
On if it’s set in that this is the final regular-season game:
To see everybody here, the former players, it’s been talked about a little bit now. It’s set in and we want to make sure we play well tonight not only for the fact that it’s the last game, but we need points right now. A lot of motivation here tonight.
On looking forward to meeting a certain former player:
No one in particular, just everybody. Maybe a guy like Gary Roberts, someone I played with. It’s always great to see former teammates. I now he’s in town. I look forward to seeing him. It’s pretty special for all of us to meet all the former players. It’s a small family, all the people who have played here. It’s nice to see everybody.
On his favorite memory at Mellon:
I’ve got lots. My first game sticks out the most. You never know what to expect. I got my first goal. I was playing with Mario. It was a dream come true. My first game sticks out.
On getting the first goal:
We’d like to do that, especially at home. That’s always a big boost. We’d like to get that momentum. With the ceremony and everything here tonight, we should have lots of motivation. Hopefully that transforms into a good start for us.
On playing the Islanders in the last game:
We’ve had a lot of close games against them. There is a lot of history between the two teams as well. It’s funny the way it does work out. We have had a lot of close games, and this is a team that is playing pretty well right now. We have to make sure that we’re on our game because they’ve upset a few teams lately.
On if he’ll miss the arena:
Yeah, definitely. I have a lot of memories here, all the guys, all the fans, that have been here for certain games. I really enjoy playing here. Hopefully there are a lot of good memories left before it closes. There is going to be a lot of emotions when we move on to the new building.
On what moments stand out from Mellon Arena:
My first game in the NHL was here. I received a warm welcome from the crowd. It should be exciting.
On if it’s sinking in that this is the final game:
No, not really. It’s weird. It feels like just another day. It’s weird, just another day. It’s not really the last one, the playoffs.
On the alumni:
They are good players. The guys that have played there and opened the building. That’s a while ago. It’s pretty cool that they’re here.
On sending the arena off in style:
That’s the goal. Keep everybody happy tonight.
On a strong finish:
We know what type of hockey we have to play, and we can play. We are trying to get to our game, be consistent for 60 minutes, play a full game like that. I feel like our battle level has been really good lately. We’ve been battling and trying to put our best effort out there. Sometimes it’s a question of focus but we are conscious that there are three games left and playoff coming up. This is huge for us right now.
On favorite memory:
My first memory is my best memory. I remember five years ago, my first year, after the lockout, there was training camp here and it was almost over. Eddie Olcyk called me into his office and told me I was going to play the first regular-season game in the NHL. I remember coming out of the dressing room, going to the stands, sitting by myself and calling my family to tell them I made it and realized my dream. That’s my best memory in that building, and my favorite.
On if its bitter sweet to move to the new arena:
It’s tough for now because we only have a few games left. We are going to miss this building. But I’m sure our first regular-season game in the new building will be like, yes we miss Mellon, the culture and everything that happened here, but being in the best building in the league isn’t bad either.
On who he’d vote as NHL MVP and why:
Sidney Crosby. As a team we’ve had a lot of up and downs but if you look at what he did, he was consistent all year. Over 40 goals now, going for 50. He definitely led our team this year in every aspect. He’s better in faceoffs, better defensively, scoring some goals for us. He’s a huge part of our team. He is the most valuable player in the NHL.
On how to beat the Islanders:
They’re a good team. You can’t just look at the standings. They’re playing well. They’re young. They play with no fear. They have pressure right now. They’re having fun. These are the teams that are most dangerous. For us, we can’t really focus on that. We just have to go and play our game and know that we have three games left to prepare for the postseason. We need to sharpen up and play 60 minutes of Penguins hockey.
On if the last game has sunk in yet:
It did come up really quickly. Has it sunk in? No, because we know there are games after. Yes you want to make it memorable. But next week we’ll have another game. If we hadn’t made the playoffs and tonight was the last game then it would be really, really special. Yes it’s special but we know next week we have big games coming up so we can’t be sad about leaving this building.
Head coach Dan Bylsma said that he expects Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar to be in the lineup for Pittsburgh tonight against the NY Islanders. But he was less committal with the idea of Chris Kunitz getting back into action.
"I expect Gonchar and Malkin to play," Bylsma said. "Kunitz is still day-to-day. He was on the ice skating so he is progressing."
The Penguins players formed a circle on the ice in front of the gathered alumni and started to bang the glass and tap their sticks as a show of honor to the former Penguins at the skate.
With all the hoopla surrounding the final Mellon Arena regular-season game and the festivities planned, you may forget that there is still a hockey game to be played. The team is on ice for their morning skate.
The Penguins will have over 50 alumni players, coaches and management in the house for the closing of Mellon Arena. Many of those alumni attended the morning skate, and will receive an tour of the new Consol Energy Center in the afternoon.
Those in attendance will be Hockey Hall of Famers Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Bryan Trottier, Craig Patrick and Larry Murphy will join Jean Pronovost, Syl Apps, Dave Burrows, Bryan Watson, and Ron Schock.
Evgeni Malkin, who missed the team's last game with an illness and has been out for eight of the Penguins' last 10 games, was on the ice early for Pittsburgh. No word on his status for the game, but it is at least a good sign for Pittsburgh.
The day has finally come. After 48 years operation and housing the Penguins since their inception into the National Hockey League in 1967, Mellon Arena's run is coming to an end. Although the official end will not come until sometime in the postseason, today - April 8, 2010 - marks the final regular-season game ever to be played in the oldest building in the NHL.
Jason Seidling has a great piece on the site today with some of the memories from the current Penguins players and coaches as the final puck drop nears.
My personal favorite memory came in the came during the opening round of the 2001 playoffs against the Washington Capitals. It was Game 6 and Pittsburgh had a 3-2 series lead. The game went to overtime when Martin Straka stole the puck from Sergei Gonchar and walked in on goaltender Olaf Kolzig for a breakaway. Straka lifted a shot into the net to upset hated rival Washington and advance into the next round of the playoffs.