After an underwhelming effort in a 4-1 home loss to the Coyotes March 26, the Penguins held a players-only meeting. When asked about the purpose of the meeting, Brooks Orpik said, "There was a lot of negativity outside the locker room. We just trying to make sure it didn't creep in."
Despite being in first place in the Metropolitan Division by a wide margin since the early stages of the season, the Penguins have been the subject of scorn for a variety of reasons including:
-A combination of four consecutive playoff runs without a Stanley Cup win.
-A fourth-place finish by a United States team with a handful of Penguins personnel including Orpik.
-A rout at the hands of the Blackhawks in a snowy outdoor game on national television which included Orpik being beaten one-on-one by Chicago star Jonathan Toews for a goal.
-A lukewarm 10-9-2 record since the Olympic break.
Individually, Orpik has been target of much of that criticism. Whether it's been in regards to high-profile hits which have injured opponents or for his level of play this season, Orpik has been a lightning rod.
Recently, Orpik talked about that criticism directed at the team as well as him and his play this season.
You talked about the negativity directed at the team. You are aware of it but how much do you pay attention to it?
"I think guys are aware of it. I think a lot of they younger guys are big Twitter guys so they’re caught up in it more than older guys. I think you learn as you get older, you’re focus has to be on stuff you control. I know at home, we’ve been struggling. We heard some boos at the end of the Phoenix game, the [Los Angles] game. That’s never fun at home. We talked about it. We talked about staying positive. Guys are working hard. Guys are really committed here. Everybody wants to win. It’s not like we didn’t have guys on board. Things just weren’t going our way. If you look at Chicago, Chicago’s one of the best teams in the league and they’re really struggling right now. Whether it’s injuries or fatigue, there’s ups and downs. You’ve got to learn to deal with that stuff. I think we just wanted to make sure stuff wasn’t creeping into the room. I’ll be honest, nobody [outside the team] knows what goes on our room. You can try to guess what’s going on in our room, try to guess what’s going on with our team. But nobody really knows. It’s all speculation. You just try to avoid that stuff, come in and work hard. We know if we work hard, we have enough talent here that we will turn things around."
(Note: This interview was held before Chicago's current three-game winning streak.)
Is it strange to be in first place in the Metropolitan Division by a considerable margin but to still have so much criticism directed at the team?
"It’s good and bad. It keeps you motivated. Whether or not some of that’s justified or not, you can’t really worry about it. Every year, we have that meeting with [general manager Ray Shero] the first day of training camp where he says the goal is to win the Stanley Cup. There’s always a lot of pressure on you as a player. Some guys deal with it better than other guys. Ultimately every year, you’re judged by how you do in the postseason. I don’t even remember what our record was or how many points we had when we won the Stanley Cup. Nor did it matter. People remember how you play in the postseason."
A great deal of that criticism has been directed at you individually. How much attention do you pay to it?
"I haven’t heard any criticism directed my way. I don’t know. You just try to do the best you can. There’s ups and downs every season whether it be injury-related or confidence-related. It happens every season. We’re in first place. There’s always got to be something to complain about. Maybe it’s not sunny enough in Pittsburgh. (Laughs.) You've got to be negative. I think we’ve got a group that gets along really well. Some guys, I think when you realize when a teammate is going through a rough patch, guys do a good job of helping those guys out and getting them through it. Everybody in the room goes through it. Maybe some guys more than other people. As long as your bosses are happy, that’s all that matters."
How do you assess your season?
"That’s probably better answered by coaches or management. I can only comment on where my work ethic is and commitment level. I think that’s always the same. You’re going to have some slumps, some ups and downs. In terms of evaluation, I don’t know. I don’t think I necessary evaluate myself. I know when I’m playing well, not playing well. I think defensemen and goalies get scrutinized a bit more, especially goalies. I know the last couple of years, people were all over [Marc-Andre Fleury]. If you look at the chances we were giving up on him versus the chances Tuukka Rask would see in Boston, [Rask] would see ones of those chances every five games. [Fleury] might see fives of those in one game. I don’t know how to answer that question to be honest. There’s a lot of so-called experts that do that for a living. I don’t pay too much attention to it. But I know when my game is going well and it’s not going well. I don’t need other people to tell me that. The coaches know that I know when I’m doing well and not doing well."
Rob Scuderi said it took him some time to fully recover from his ankle injury. Did it take you any time to fully recover from your concussion you suffered Dec. 7?
"I think in hindsight, I probably came back way too quick from it. I felt a lot of pressure because of the Olympics coming up. Looking back on it, it was probably not the smartest thing with a brain injury. It’s something you go through and you learn from it. In terms of reaction, you can pass all those baseline tests and stuff like that. I know for a while, it just kind of seemed like the play was going too quick. A step behind. That’s something you’ve got to be smart about. I probably didn’t take the smartest approach to it but you learn from it."
You and the other Olympians on the roster have had several days off from practice since returning from Sochi. How have you managed yourself physically after this season compared to 2010?
"Well in 2010, I had a sports hernia. I was really managing that. I didn’t practice at all trying to manage that. That happened like in November of that [season] so I was really struggling with that. This year, it’s more managing injuries and just managing energy levels. I think sleep and diet is the biggest thing. I think sometimes if you’re younger, you don’t know how to handle that as well. I think I’ve gotten more educated about diet and sleep habits as well. I’m better off for it now. The coaches have asked me how I feel energy-wise. It’s different for different guys. Energy-wise, I’ve felt great. It’s been more managing injuries for me. It hasn’t been fatigue."
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