Q&A: New coach Johnston feeling at home with Penguins

Penguins coach Mike Johnston on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
Photo by Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
| Sunday, July 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

It has been a hectic time for Penguins coach Mike Johnston since he was hired June 25. He attended the NHL Draft, provided input into free agency and presided over the team's recently concluded prospect camp.

Johnston took some time to answer questions about his early tenure with the Penguins:

Question: You've been here a few weeks now. Are you starting to like Pittsburgh?

Answer: I love it. You know how I know it's a great city? Every former player I've talked with decided to make Pittsburgh home after retiring. (Mark) Recchi, (Rick) Tocchet, Mario (Lemieux). You name it. They've all stayed, and I think that says a lot. In fact, my wife and I really love the Downtown area. We're thinking about living in Downtown because it's just so nice, such a great setup. It sure seems like a special place.

Q: Your life turned into a whirlwind late in June. Have you recovered yet?

A: Not really. It was pretty unique, the whole thing. I was hired, then the draft was that week, then free agency. And then two weeks later, (prospects) camp. I've been back home for a week. But that's OK. It's been great, really. This week was particularly good, getting to see the young players and also getting to know all the coaches better. We're starting to develop some chemistry, and that will continue. The coaches are having a session together in August. The check list is getting whittled down. Maybe at some point this summer, I'll be able to sit back and see what a great opportunity this is for me.

Q: For the first time in his career, Sidney Crosby is dealing with some criticism from Pittsburgh fans. You had lunch with him recently. What did you learn?

A: Whenever you're a new coach, you want to get to know the person before anything else. I know him a little bit because we're from the same place, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what he does in the summer, who he trains with, what he's up to. His program is so regimented, and he works so hard in the summer. I loved hearing about it. We talked about lots of things. We talked about what it was like for him to become a star at such a young age. That was interesting to me. I didn't get into the playoffs. I didn't ask him what went wrong. I watched those games as a spectator, and I will watch them again on tape soon. I'll develop my own impressions.

Q: A lot of people wouldn't be flying to Russia next week, given recent events, just to meet a player. But your trip next week to Moscow means a lot to you, doesn't it?

A: It does. First off, I've been to Russia a lot, probably eight times. I was with the national team in Canada, so I'm comfortable in Moscow. I'm looking for it. I want to talk with Geno (Evgeni Malkin). I want to get to know him. I think it's a good thing for a player who he gets to meet his new coach on his home turf. I think it will be comfortable for Geno. It's a chance for me to meet him, and for us to talk, and I think it's important. When training camp comes, you don't really get too much time to talk.

Q: Speaking of training camp, your team is loaded with offensive defensemen such as Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Olli Maatta, Christian Ehrhoff and Simon Despres. Is there room for the Rob Scuderi's and Robert Bortuzzo's of the world?

A: I do believe you have to have some balance in terms of offensive guys and defensive guys. That's important. You need some physical play and some shutdown guys. But I love having the option of three or four guys who can jump into the play, escape their own zone quickly. There's a lot of talented defensemen in this organization.

Q: Five years ago, this team was pegged as a dynasty. It didn't happen. Do you feel pressure to immediately start winning?

A: I've never been one to focus on pressure. Pressure, for me, comes when I don't feel like I'm doing a good job — just like a player. Trust me, I will put more pressure on myself than anyone else ever will. No offense, but I don't really read the papers much. I trust my staff and the people I'm close with. You have to be true to yourself, true to your instincts. Just be who you are. That's what I'll do. I'm very excited about this.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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