Penguins defenseman Ian Cole took part in what was a very optional practice in Cranberry today.
Cole left last night's game in Detroit after the first period due to an undisclosed injury. He declined to specify the nature of the injury but said he was feeling good when he spoke with media after the practice. His status for Saturday's home game against the Islanders is uncertain.
In addition to his healthy, Cole discussed his level of play and offered some pretty frank thoughts about Maple Leafs' center Leo Komarov's hit from behind against defenseman Kris Letang Wednesday.
How do you feel?
“Feeling good. … It's tough to put it in any particular way. There's so much you can read into any particular phrasing you want to put it. There's some protocol you just have to go through. Leave it at that I guess.”
Your status for Saturday is still uncertain?
"Yeah. I'll go talk to [athletic trainer Chris Stewart] and I think we'll see tomorrow how everything is. Obviously, you want to play every single game. I'll just try to get back in there ASAP."
Management discussed a need for you to elevate earlier this season. Do you think you've done that?
"Yeah. I think it's been going real well the past however many games. It's been going real well. I don't think it was anything that I wasn't feeling it or I was hurt or that I was just … entitled or not working hard. I think that a lot of my reads were right and I think it was very well intentioned. I was trying to do all the right things and I think I had all the right reads for the most part but there was just some fluky stuff going on. Just goals ended up in the net. Pucks going through my [feet] to guys on breakaways. Just a lot of weird stuff going on and obviously I think the only way to go through that is just to work hard and re-address, really get back to the basics as far as like … I'm not going to do too much. I'm just going to like kind of get rid of all the peripheral nonsense and just try to do my job as best I can. I think for the last chunk of games, it's been going really well."
What has changed for you under a new coach?
"I don't think the message or system has really changed all that much coach to coach. I think every team, every coach in the NHL has to play fast, wants to play hard, wants to play really tight defense, really close defense transitioning the puck quickly not giving up much in your own zone. At the same, creating offensively and going offensively and really making stuff happen in the offensive end. So I don't think any of that stuff has changed. I think to a man, everyone tries to do that to the best they can. So I don't think my role has changed. I'm still trying to play quick defensively, keep tight gaps, play hard defensively, transition the puck well and go on offense. So I think in that sense, absolutely nothing has changed."
You were a scratch Dec. 19. Was there any benefit to that?
"Yeah. I think anytime you can kind of step back and re-address … maybe not simplify but kind of get back to the foundation of what you're good at. I think that it's always good. Take a break and step back and clear your mind of all the thoughts, all the peripheral nonsense. I think [it] is always beneficial."
After Komarov hit Letang from behind Wednesday, you appeared to say something to Komarov and invited him to fight. What goes through your head when something like that occurs?
"I don't think anything really goes through your head as far as like, 'Oh this is what I have to do to step up.' I think you're mad. You're looking at teammates, especially in the Komarov case, a guy like [Letang] that has been down that path many times as far as hits from behind, head-first into the boards, a lot of head issues. So you would think that there would be a little more respect or a little more awareness as far as that goes. It's not like that he's a guy that his history isn't known by people. So I think to see his back turned, he's four feet from the boards and you still finish him and put him head-first into the boards. It's not even like he's up against the boards, right? You like kind throw him head-first into the boards. That stuff kind of bothers you as a player, as a teammate.
So I go back to your question, is there anything goes through your head? No. You're just concerned about your teammate. You're [ticked] off and you're like, 'Man, this guy needs to like answer up for what he did.' This guy needs to just kind of have someone go up and be like, 'That's bull [manure].' Pardon my language but that's bull [manure] and that shouldn't be allowed or accepted. If you did that to somebody, you'd be expecting somebody to come up to you. So I think that in terms of players kind of policing themselves – he got a penalty on it so there was something – but a guy needs to kind of needs to answer up for his actions on the ice. Which he chose not to do which is fine."
There isn't a true enforcer on this roster. Is it more of a team-wide duty?
"Yeah, for sure. For sure. I think that we have had really good responses as far as stuff like that. In Toronto, there was another one. There was another scrum. [Center Sidney Crosby] was in there with [Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf]. The past couple of games, if there's anything like that, guys get in there. Guys aren't afraid. You see [left winger Chris Kunitz] get in there many times. [Center Eric Fehr]. All of our defensemen are very capable. You see [Letang], he's not worried about himself. He goes flying in there like a bat out of [heck] if you will. You don't need one guy whose sole job is to go do this. Everyone is capable. Everyone is able and aggressive enough and well intentioned enough to step in and kind of police themselves and I think we've done a pretty good job of that so far."
When Wild right winger Nino Niederreiter hit defensman Olli Maatta into the visiting bench door Nov. 17, you took a slashing penalty against Niederreiter afterwards. Is there a line or limit you need to be careful not to cross?
"Yeah. And obviously, every situation is different, right? If [Letang] goes down and goes out and Olli went down in that case. Maybe it's not the best idea to get in a fight right after that because you're down to four [defensemen] for five minutes and you're putting a lot of strain on the rest of the guys. So with the whole Niederreiter situation, yeah I was trying to maybe goad him into one. Trying to make him answer up a little bit but he obviously wasn't really a fan of that. He just skated away. It kind of bothered me so I gave him a slash. Ill-advised probably, yeah. But it was one of those things that really [ticked] you off, especially when the guy just doesn't feel like he needs to kind of own up to what he did. Obviously you want to do it smartly. You don't want to put your team in a bad situation but at the same time, you want to protect your teammates and kind of make guys own up for what they did. So it's kind of a very fine line but you try to straddle that as best you can."
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)