Two things are considerably different with former Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff compared to last season.
First, he no longer wears his signature Batman t-shirt under his shoulder pads.
"It's retired," Ehrhoff says.
He's also healthy.
In his only season with the Penguins, Ehrhoff was sidelined for 38 games in 2014-15 - including playoffs - due to various injuries including two concussions.
The first major signing by general manager Jim Rutherord in the 2014 offseason, Ehrhoff was limited to 49 games and 14 points last season. Injuries and the team's strong depth on the blue line prevented him from fully claiming a truly prominent role with the Penguins, including on the power play. The team let him walk as a free agent this past offseason.
With uncertainly looming over his health, Ehrhoff's value as a free agent was strained. And with many teams operating with limited salary, Ehrhoff didn't find work until late in the offseason. The Kings signed him to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million, a pedestrian total for top-four defensemen.
Ehrhoff, 32, has played in 23 games this season and scored 10 points. After being a healthy scratch for two games in November, Ehrhoff has seen an increase in his production having scored two goals in his past three games, including a score in Saturday's 5-3 home win against the Penguins.
Following his team's practice at Consol Energy Center today, Ehrhoff talked about his current season, rebounding from his injury and his time with the Penguins.
How has the season gone so far?
"It's going better lately. I didn't play really well at the beginning of the season but lately I've played better and seem to get things going."
You had a few healthy scratches earlier this season. Recently, you've scored two goals in your past three games. What has changed?
"It was a little difference in the way they wanted me to play in the defensive zone. A little more aggressive. That took some time to get straightened out. That's where it starts to get better. Once you get that, the coaches start to get more confidence and it seems to roll from there."
You're paired with Jamie McBain on defense. What is the role of your duo as opposed to the top pairing of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin?
"Right now, me and McBain, we're usually the third pair. They usually get to play against the top two lines and we get thrown into the rest."
You've gotten a fair amount of power-play time this season. You have to be satisfied with that.
"Yeah, for sure. That has been pretty successful all season long. We kind of rotate in and out so there's really no set pairs. It always keeps us on our toes. That's something that's been positive."
(Note: Ehrhoff has averaged 2:10 of power-play time this season, fourth-most on the Kings. Last season, he averaged 2:01 per game, eighth-most on the Penguins.)
What was your offseason like? You didn't finish last season due to a concussion and didn't sign with the Kings until late August.
"There was definitely uncertainty that came with it. But for me personally, I just tried to prepare myself as best as I can. It was definitely a little different situation coming off injuries where I was basically injured since January. It took me a little longer to get back into shape. That was pretty much the only difference. Obviously the [free agent] market was a little different this year than we were used to from past seasons. But in the end, I'm happy where I ended up. I'm happy to be on a good club and hopefully I'll get a good season."
How long did it take for you to feel healthy?
"A couple of weeks after the season ended, I got cleared. It definitely took a lot longer to get into shape. It was a different feeling than in the offseasons before for sure."
Did your injury prevent you from doing any sort of off-ice training?
"I didn't have any symptoms … but when I started I felt way more out of shape than when you take just three weeks off after you just played a season. You seem to get back into that groove real quick and build up that [conditioning] a lot quicker. It seemed like I was starting way farther away from my peak and it just took a lot longer."
Did the Penguins make any sort of legitimate attempt to re-sign you?
"No, not really."
Obviously, the injuries dictated a lot of what happened, but how do you assess your only season in Pittsburgh?
"I definitely enjoyed my time here and my family did as well. We really enjoyed the community we lived in and everything that came with it, school and pre-school and that kind of stuff. But on the ice, definitely a was a tough season for me. It took me a while to get going on the ice. Just when I thought I was playing well and adjusted well, I got into the injury trouble and the season was done. From that point of view, it was a really tough season for me. Frustrating in the end and a little scary too. Probably it could have worked out better for me. I wish fans could have seen a little more of what I can bring."
What was your reaction when you found out right winger Pascal Dupuis would have to end his career due to a recurrence of blood clots?
"I felt really sorry, really bad for him because I know how hard he worked last year trying to come back and trying to stay in shape. He's such a good influence in the room. Always happy, always positive. It's really tough for him to leave the game like that. But you've got to put – like he said – family comes first. He did what he had to do. I just wish him all the best."
(Photos: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images and Harry How/Getty Images)