Pens’ Adams meets fans as Squirrels clinch

The Penguins begin training camp next month with a new head coach in Mike Johnston, and forward Craig Adams said it was hard to see Dan Bylsma forced out after last season.

“Dan was a coach that I really enjoyed playing for, had a lot of respect for,” Adams said Monday night during a visit to Peoples Natural Gas. “Not only Dan, but (assistants) Tony Granato and Todd Reirden, as well.

“When you work closely with somebody and you have success with them in the past, you always have a bond. So it was hard to see him go.”

Adams met fans and signed autographs during the Curve’s 5-4 loss to Richmond before 3,066 fans. The Flying Squirrels clinched a playoff berth with the victory and a loss by Bowie, and the team enjoyed the traditional champagne celebration in the visiting clubhouse after the game.

It’s the second time Richmond has made the playoffs in franchise history, and the other (2011) also included the team clinching a berth in Altoona.

Adams first joined the Penguins late in the 2008-09 season, perfect timing for him as the club went on to win the Stanley Cup under Bylsma. But despite being a Cup favorite year in and year out the past few years, the team consistently underachieved in the postseason.

Bylsma’s fate was sealed after this past season when the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead and were ousted in seven games by the New York Rangers in the second round.

General manager Ray Shero was fired, and his replacement, Jim Rutherford, fired Bylsma and brought in Johnston.

“We’ve had a couple conversations on the phone and one meeting face to face,” Adams said of his new coach. “So we talked about a bunch of things, but obviously until you get going and get on the ice and start working together that way, I can’t say I really know him that well yet.”

That feeling-out process will begin in training camp.

“I can tell you right away that he’s a very friendly guy,” Adams said of Johnston. “Very easy to talk to, obviously very interested in getting to know all the players as best as he can before camp starts. So it’s been really open and easy in that way.”

One of the big criticisms of the Penguins under Bylsma is the perception that the team played soft in the postseason.

“I disagree,” said Adams, who added the criticism doesn’t bother him. “It’s a very fine line between winning and losing. We were very close to beating a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

“I don’t think it’s a stylistic thing. I think it’s more a question of sticking to your game plan and executing as well as you can. That’s going to be different for every team. You have to try and play to your strengths. We didn’t do that well enough, I guess, to beat the Rangers.”

A big reason the Pens didn’t beat the Rangers was that their offense fell flat, managing only one goal in each of the final three losses. Sidney Crosby was held scoreless in those last three games and looked sluggish throughout the playoffs.

Crosby and other Penguins stars had the added burden of playing in the Olympics during the season, something they won’t have to deal with this season.

“I’m not in that position where I’m being asked to go and play those extra games; other guys on other teams had to do it, too,” Adams said. “But yeah, it’s a lot to ask. It was a condensed schedule it puts a lot of strain on the body. But those guys I know badly want to win and win for the Penguins, so I’m sure they’ll be ready to go (this season).”

Adams continued the tradition of Penguins players shooting out a ceremonial “first puck” prior to his visit for a Curve game. Before coming to town, he joked about a pointer from teammate Pascal Dupuis.

“He said for one thing to bring your own stick,” Adams said. “The staff here likes to try and mess with the hockey players giving them bad sticks and stuff to shoot with.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: LHP Jack Snodgrass gave up just one run on four hits in seven innings for the Flying Squirrels.

Key play: Richmond

Key stat: The Curve have to win out to avoid matching the franchise record of 80 losses.

SUBHD: How they scored

Bottom 4th: Allie walked, scored on Vasquez single (1-0).

Top 5th: Tomlinson singled, scored on Blair two-run homer (1-2); Miller walked, scored on Harris single (1-3).

Top 6th: Schroder doubled, scored on Stromsmoe sacrifice fly (1-4).

Top 7th: Miller singled, scored on Villalona single (1-5).

Bottom 8th: Broxton singled, scored on Cabrera double (2-5); Allie walked, scored on Garcia sacrifice fly (3-5); Cunningham single scored Cabrera (4-5).