Like many elite athletes, Sidney Crosby is a man of routine.
"I would probably be the first one to tell you I don't always deal well with change," he said.
But change, Crosby concedes, isn't always a bad thing. It was good for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as coach and went on to win the Stanley Cup a few months later.
Change behind the bench came again this past off-season in Pittsburgh. Gone is Bylsma, fired not long after Cup-winning general manager Ray Shero and replaced by WHL Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston.
"It's been a little bit different and not in a bad way, just different," Crosby said in a recent interview. "You're used to things being a certain way for so long, it just becomes kind of routine. And then with a new staff and new head coaches, that kind of thing, it's a little different. You just have to have really an open mind, kind of get used to everything."
Crosby, the Penguins captain from Cole Harbour, N.S., and Johnston, their new coach from nearby Dartmouth, grew up only a few minutes apart. Johnston said at his introductory news conference that his 80-year-old father still plays hockey at Cole Harbour Place and that coaching one of Nova Scotia's best was exciting for his family.
But the style of play Johnston hopes to get the Penguins used to will be hundreds of kilometres away from what Bylsma preached.
No longer will the Penguins be such a risk-reward team in the middle of the ice, as Johnston wants his players to "own the puck (because) you play defensively a lot less."
Crosby doesn't mind that theory.
"I think that's kind of the formula for every team, that's how they want to play," he said. "We want the puck as players, and as an offensive player that hopefully means more opportunities if that's the case."
As if Crosby needs more opportunities. Last season he won his second Hart Trophy as NHL MVP with a league-leading 104 points on 36 goals and 68 assists.
That came even after a March 23 wrist injury hampered him in the final few games and then through the playoffs, when the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead to the eventual Eastern Conference-champion New York Rangers. Shero was fired soon after and then Bylsma on the day Rutherford took the reins.
"When you don't win and the expectations are high, that's kind of the result you're going to get," Crosby said.
Recalling February 2009 and how bad it felt at the time when the Penguins' losing cost Therrien his job has given the 27-year-old Crosby some perspective.
"Going back (to) different experiences, change hasn't necessarily been a bad thing," he said. "Sometimes it's been a really good thing. It doesn't feel good at the time, but I think when you look at the big picture sometimes it's something that needs to happen."
Change was in the offing for the Penguins five years after winning the Cup and one year removed from a trip to the East final that ended with a sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin are still in their primes, and any year without a crack at another championship feels like a failure.
Crosby doesn't believe a new regime changes the expectations, but he also doesn't think the Penguins are that behind the 2014- and 2012-champion Los Angeles Kings or the 2013- and 2010-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
"Are we that far off? Are we really that far from expectations?" Crosby said. "Would I love to have two Stanley Cups right now? Absolutely. But if we win this year we're not talking about how much of a failure that we haven't had a dynasty."
There's still time for that. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is in a contract year, defenceman Kris Letang is healthy and Rutherford changed up the mix by dealing winger James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Plus, the East is wide open. No team has advanced to the Cup final in back-to-back years since the Penguins in 2008 and '09.
But it begins with Crosby getting used to his fourth NHL coach, as Johnston follows Ed Olcyzk (31 games in 2005), Therrien and Blymsa.
"You want to make a good first impression," Crosby said. "With new systems, all that stuff, everyone's got a lot of work to do, so I think you just try to listen to what (Johnston is) saying and absorb everything and get to know everyone as best you can."
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