My Interview with Gonchar


Hockey Day Chat: Sergei Gonchar

Below are excerpts from my 20-minute interview Wednesday afternoon with injured Penguins D Sergei Gonchar, who will miss between 4-6 weeks with a broken left wrist. Additional parts of this interview will appear in Thursday’s Tribune-Review.

What will be different about your recovery from this injury compared to your left shoulder separation last season?

The doctor said I could skate right away, so I won’t lose much of my conditioning. Last year was tough because of the unknown time frame. We said six months, and it ended up being about that, but early on we really didn’t know anything for sure. I hadn’t been injured a lot before last year, so I had a lot of questions. This year I’m dealing with a broken bone. It doesn’t need surgery. It will hear about the time it’s supposed to, and then I’ll be back. It’s easier to prepare for physically and mentally.

Simplest way for the Penguins’ power-play to play well in your absence?

They need to give themselves some time to adjust to one another. I don’t any other problems other than that.

Give me the reason the Penguins will miss you less than they did last season?

They will be fine because they went through that stretch last year without me, and the experience of winning the Stanley Cup has helped us. We went through the playoffs and played at a high level. It was a faster pace, which made every player better. That experience stays with you.

OK, but give me an example of how, say, D Kris Letang is better now than last season?

We’ll see how much better he is. He definitely has all the tools. Sometimes it’s tougher when you play extra minutes. It’s new, and you have to adjust. Last year was probably the first time for him playing a lot at such a high level. It’s going to be easier for him because he went through it.

Does the same thinking apply to D Alex Goligoski?

He is playing with confidence, like he’s completely familiar with the system. He should be. He worked with (coach) Dan (Bylsma) at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (in 2007-08). He’s a very good skater with good hockey sense, and he’s playing with more confidence now. I think he will be fine and will adjust well.

You mentioned ‘Goose’s’ familiarity with the system. I wonder if you feel like I do that Bylsma’s system is better suited for the team to sustain a high level of play despite an injury to a key player such as you?

I do agree with you. The way we play it seems like it’s the perfect fit for our guys. We have everybody buying into the way Dan wants us to play, and it’s why if one guy gets injured it’s easier to overcome now than in the previous system. We have a fast team that skates well and we put pressure on teams. The pressure is from everybody in the lineup, and every player is used to playing this way, and we’ve all seen it be successful. We don’t rely as much on any one player under Dan.

That said, if the Penguins need to rely on G Marc-Andre Fleury over the next month or so, it seems like he is ready to handle that pressure. Have you ever seen him play this well?

He’s definitely at the top of his game, the best I’ve seen him play. He’s playing with the most confidence – maybe of any goalie in the league, but certainly that I’ve seen for him. He has proved to everybody he can be a great goalie all the time, and he expects that from himself. ‘Flower’ is at the top of his game, and he’s the biggest part of our success so far this year. We haven’t played that well as a group, and because we are winning it hasn’t been talked about a lot. We’re winning because of ‘Flower.’ He’s kept us close enough for enough to find a way to win.

It is no secret that you are in the last year of your contract, as is Letang, and the Penguins are near the salary cap, and next season’s cap is an unknown variable, and you want to finish your career here, but Letang is 13-years younger, and your talks with the Penguins have been shelved until after Jan. 1, and …

(Laughing) I can see where you are going with this. Honestly, when you get injured there is never a good time for it. But for me especially now is not a good time. I want the team to be successful, but I want to contribute to that success, and I want to put myself in the best position for the future, which I want to be here. This was very bad luck for me. It’s one of those things I have to deal with. My job now is to make sure I’m prepared for my comeback and ready to return at a high level. But, yes, this was not the best time for me to get hurt.

— BY ROB ROSSI (10/21/09)

YINZ TELL US: Thoughts and questions are always welcome. Send emails to Emails without writers’ full name and current hometown will not be read.