On the pressure he feels about the numbers at center:
“None. I just worked really hard this summer. The coaches have let me know what I need to do, so I’ve just got to go out and do it. I know I can, and if I do it as best I can and to the best of my ability, there’s no regrets at the end of the day. So far, so good.”
I asked him specifically what the coaches want from him.
“It’s just consistency. Throughout the year there were times where I’d throw a big hit or make some plays. But I think I can do things. We’ve got a lot of skilled guys on this team. I’ve got to use my body and do things that guys on the other team can’t. I’ve got to be able to use my strengths, play to my strengths. It’s just a consistency thing.
“I wasn’t consciously ever shying away from anything. But now it’s more, take the initiative. I can bang guys, I can create room for myself and my linemates, and any time a player does that on any team. you’re aware of him. If they’re thinking about getting hit, they’re not thinking about their game. That’s something I’ve got to start doing more and more. It’s just one preseason game and it felt good, it was a lot of fun to get back with the boys and play at the Garden. It’s done now.”
I asked if it’s more above the neck than below.
“Yeah, I think so. I have the tools. I worked hard on my skating this summer, the hands are there. I just have the confidence and the trust that what I did this summer is going to pay off. There’s guys who believe in me, and coaches believe in me. Schoeny told me today, just go out and play. It’s a lot of fun when you’re just going out and playing.”
On the work on his conditioning and his skating stride.
“I felt like I could move, and the explosiveness on the goal, and using my core, that was one thing that helped me get around that guy and bring it to the net. It did help, obviously. It’s going to help me a lot.”
On how the addition of Alex Frolov will help him and the team:
“He’s a strong player. he can handle the puck behind the goal and play with a guy on his back and then make a play. Strong on the puck, very well fit, and he played a very good game. It’s just a start for us. Hopefully we can build on this.
“I think we had some good chances down low and that’s where he’s strong. We have to play little give and gos and create room for each other and just move and try to get open. That’s what he’s good at and that’s whay I have to do when he has the puck.”
(who confirmed that the pronunciation of his name is indeed Step-on).
“I had a chance on the second shift and I choked. I think I grabbed the stick a little tight.”
Said the first day with Gaborik, first shift, he saw Gaborik behind the defense. This time, same thing, and couldn’t believe the defenseman got a piece of his bouncing pass that would have sprung Gaborik.
“Or he was gone.”
On his faceoffs:
“Not very good. About even (50 percent, exactly, 5 of 10). I was talking with Dubinsky about it and he’s like, we’ll just practice. … That’s something, game experience will help. Learning tendencies of bigger, stronger guys. That will come. So for me to go 50 (percent), not great, but it’sa good start. Then I know I can start to figure it out a little bit. If I didn’t win a faceoff all night then we know we’d have some issues.”
On Frolov’s hands:
“Oh, my goodness. That guy’s nuts. I don’t even know how to explain it. Those two guys, you just hand off the puck and skate and they’ll find you. If they don’t find you, they’ll score. So they make my job really easy.”
On his defensive play:
“I think, defensive zone for me at Wisconsin, we just read off players. It’s a little bit different here … I didn’t feel bad. There wasn’t many point-blank chances where we didn’t have at least a guy with a stick in the way.”
And every time he’s been asked, from before the Traverse City tournament through last night, if he’s ready, he has tried not to portray too much confidence, but has ultimately said, “Yes, I think I’m ready.”
That’s it from MSG for tonight. See youse tomorrow.