There were hugs and handshakes. Someone cried. Someone else dropped an F-bomb. And that was before Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had a chance to talk about the upcoming season on Monday.
Crosby, as has been a preseason tradition for years and years, was part of a parade of Penguins surprising season ticket holders, in this case Coraopolis resident Bill Radocaj and an assembled group of family and friends.
Afterward, Crosby took a few minutes to speak with reporters about the state of the Penguins coming off what might have seemed like an interminable offseason considering that the Penguins missed the playoffs last spring, the first time that has happened since Crosby, 36, was a rookie in 2006.
Attending an annual NHL national media event in Las Vegas last week and then participating in Monday’s event served as a trigger for him — hockey is finally coming.
“That’s good,” Crosby said, smiling. “You just want to get on the ice at this point. It’s been a long offseason.”
The Penguins, thanks to consecutive losses to Columbus and Chicago to end the regular season, finished one point out of the wild card race in the Eastern Conference. They were done on April 13. They open training camp later this week.
Asked about the biggest thing the team has to do better in 2023-24, he went with theme over scheme.
“I think just consistency. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Crosby said. “We had stretches where we won seven in a row and then lost seven in a row and we struggled a bit with overtime, especially in the first half.
“You start to break all that down, that’s the difference between making the playoffs and not. So consistency is a big thing.”
Since Crosby packed his things on break-up day in April, not only have the weeks and months droned on, but the Penguins also made major changes, bringing in president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas, lots of other hockey ops personnel and, most critical to Sidney Crosby’s 19th NHL season, a whole lot of new players.
“It’s been a long one. There’s been a lot of change, a lot of turnover,” Crosby said. “So it’s all been waiting in anticipation of getting going. It’s nice to be close and finally be at that point.”
Whatever emotions Crosby carried out of that early exit, he made it clear that turning the page brings with it a new set of emotions.
“I think the motivation just comes from not making the playoffs,” he said.
“That’s a bad feeling when you’re watching and you’re not in it. To know we were as close as we were — it’s one point that’s basically is the difference. And you know that, how tight it is, but it’s just not fun watching, and that’s why we play, to be in that position (in the playoffs).
“And then when there’s turnover and change, I think you have to be open to it and make sure that we’re ready to go. There’s always going to be a learning curve for any new group when there’s a lot of turnover. That’s just part of it.”
It’s a part of moving forward that Crosby embraces.
“I think just excited,” he said. “You want to bounce back. When it doesn’t go your way, you want to respond the right way and use it as a learning experience. Hopefully, that’s everyone’s mindset.
“I think with a lot of new faces, I think everyone’s really excited and has a lot of energy, and once we get going wants to prove themselves. So I think we’re all in the same boat there, that the guys who were there last year want to bounce back, and the new guys coming in, they want to prove themselves. I think that’s a good mentality to have.”
One newcomer who might have to work on transitioning into the Penguins lineup but should not have to prove himself is defenseman Erik Karlsson, acquired from San Jose in the biggest blockbuster trade of the NHL offseason.
Karlsson is the defending and three-time Norris Trophy winner, and he is coming off a 101-point season.
“He’s special,” Crosby said. “He can create a lot back there. A hundred points, it’s crazy.”