Penguins seek improvement at retreat
Losing by three goals to the Detroit Red Wings in their preseason debut Saturday night at Mellon Arena was not how the Penguins wanted to leave for their annual retreat to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"It makes it feel like it's going to be a long week up ahead," Penguins forward Erik Christensen said. "The coaching staff probably isn't all that happy with the outcome and going 0 for 2 the last two nights, but these games don't count and it's going to give us a good idea of what we need to work on."
Through four preseason games, the Penguins are 1-1-2 and have shown a weakness on the power play, scoring only twice in 31 chances (6.5 percent) with the man-advantage.
Some of the futility is to be expected, because the team is asking wide-eyed rookies to play with experienced veterans and hoping they'll mesh. The unit was only 1 for 6 on Saturday in a 5-2 loss in which the first and second power-play units from last season were largely intact.
"Obviously (Saturday) was not a good performance, and we will address that with our team when we're going to be at West Point," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "I think our focus was not there. I didn't like the last two practices that we had. Sometimes it's a matter of attitude, and I don't think we had the right attitude to approach (that) game."
Being on the same page is one of the more important aspects of playing on the power play, and it's one of the primary goals of the team during its three-day excursion to West Point.
"This whole thing is about team-building and cohesiveness," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "It's just kind of growing together and doing stuff together, that's the whole gist of it."
That togetherness is one of the primary reasons the players in the Penguins' dressing room believe they were able to have a 47-point improvement over 2005-06 and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in six years. It's also what makes them so amenable when it comes to community service projects such as the Town Hall Meeting held last week, displaying the Rbk Edge uniforms at a local mall or driving to fans' homes to hand-deliver season tickets.
"Last season a lot of us knew each other, but there were a bunch of new guys and we did stuff to get to know each other in different ways," Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "Right there at the beginning was why we had such great chemistry."
This season could shape up to be similar. The team already has a young core group and established veterans, but there are also several new faces that weren't with the team last season and others that arrived later and didn't go through the West Point training sessions.
"I've done that lots, going to military bases for motivation and stuff," said Penguins forward Georges Laraque, who started last season in Phoenix. "It's more or a tribute to them, going there and showing them our appreciation for what they're doing to the country and it's fun to see how they live and how hard they work out."
Still, though there will be plenty of bonding time, this will be a working vacation. Last year 1st Sgt. J.B. Spisso, a Greensburg native, put the players through rigorous boot camp-like drills, including dragging a wounded soldier and carrying someone like a firefighter does when taking an unconscious person out of a burning building.
"We do some things that are very unique and very fun ... but you've got to go there with the right attitude and that's the great things about the guys is that they have the right attitude," Penguins forward Mark Recchi said. "I've been on teams where they haven't got the right attitude and they didn't get anything out of it, but the guys are excited about it and we're looking forward to it."