By Will Graves
October 8, 2014
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) is congratulated by Brandon Sutter (16) after beating the Detroit Red Wings 2-0 in a NHL preseason hockey game in Detroit Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Sidney Crosby has spent months politely rehashing the Pittsburgh Penguins' nightmarish spring, a stretch that included a meltdown against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and a sizable front office overhaul that shook one of the NHL's most stable organizations.
The league's reigning MVP is happy to turn the page.
''I'm tired of talking about last year,'' Crosby said. ''It's nice to move on, get a fresh start here for everybody. We've got a lot of new faces, we still have a lot to improve on and get better.''
The Penguins should get an idea of how far they have to go starting Thursday when they host Anaheim in the season opener. Pittsburgh has been one of the league's best teams out of the gate over the last five years, going 44-24 during the opening month since 2009.
Matching that October success may be difficult this time around. A schedule that includes games against the Ducks and defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles won't help. Neither will expected the growing pains associated with trying to adjust to first-year coach Mike Johnston's style.
General manager Jim Rutherford stressed during the offseason he'd be OK with sacrificing a point or two in the fall if it led to success in the playoffs for a franchise more than five years removed from its last championship.
While Crosby cautioned it's important not to get lulled into the idea that losing will be tolerated, he said there will be missteps along the way as the Penguins try to forge a new identity under Johnston following five-plus seasons in coach Dan Bylsma's high-risk, high-reward attack.
''If guys have the right work ethic and our focus is there and we do everything to help ourselves and have mistakes that are mistakes just because it's early and guys are getting a feel for each other, I think that's a little more acceptable than it would be in a typical year,'' he said. ''That being said, I think you can tell pretty quickly why you make those mistakes and if it's a lack of effort or not being sharp. That's totally different.''
And while Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis likened learning Johnston's system - one that focuses on puck possession rather than the dazzling if dangerous stretch passes favored by Bylsma - to picking up ''new slang.'' The goal remains the same regardless of who is behind the bench.
''Every team tries to accomplish the same thing,'' Crosby said. ''You try to hold onto the puck. You try to play fast. You try to put pressure on the other team. I don't think that ever changes.''
Neither does Pittsburgh's reliance on its two superstars. Crosby insists he's healthy after dealing with an aching wrist that limited his effectiveness in the playoffs while Evgeni Malkin is expected to play in the opener after missing most of training camp with an undisclosed injury.
And while Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury are back too, the rest of the roster looks decidedly different. It's Johnston's job to figure out how best to use newcomers like forwards Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling and Blake Comeau. And it's the Penguins' job to figure out how Johnston works after spending more than half a decade listening to the professional and occasionally excitable Bylsma.
''I think he's pretty calm,'' Crosby said. ''I don't think that's going to change no matter what the score is. That's his demeanor, that's his way. I'd be pretty shocked if you heard his voice all that much.''
Johnston would prefer his team's play to do most of the talking. He's been put in an enviable if difficult task of coaxing a roster stuffed with talent - particularly at the top - toward taking the step that's eluded them since Crosby lifted the Cup in triumph in 2009.
He has a six-month regular season to hone the process, though he has no intention of being patient. He was hired to win in April, May and June. Though he will spend all year preaching about the ''habits and details in our game we know we desperately need come playoff time'' he has no plans of lowering expectations for October.
''As far as results go and how we're going to play,'' he said, ''I expect us to be very sharp right off the hop.''