Penguins Bylsma Needs to Earn His Spurs – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Bylsma Needs to Earn His Spurs

I know it’s probably considered heresy in these parts to criticize Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. After all, the guy won a Stanley Cup in his first season behind the bench. He’s already won more playoff games than any other skipper in franchise history. A terrific motivator, he richly deserves the Jack Adams Trophy for keeping the team on course through an injury-plagued season. And the players love him.

But Bylsma has his warts, too. For one, he’s too committed to his pedal-to-the-metal style. Although the Penguins are shorn of their most talented players, he stubbornly refuses to alter his approach, preferring to swap chances with a more skilled Tampa Bay team. While it’s true the puck-possession game helped pave the way to the 2009 Cup, the Pens still remembered (and employed) the defensive lessons learned under the departed Michel Therrien.

Flash back to the opening round of the 1992 playoffs, when the Mario Lemieux-led Pens trailed Washington 3 games to 1. Arguably one of the most gifted offensive teams ever assembled, the black and gold nonetheless switched to a neutral-zone trap with coach Scotty Bowman’s blessings—and went on to win the Cup.

“We can change gears,” then-Pens defenseman Gordie Roberts noted at the time. “We can play any style. We do what we have to do to win hockey games.”

It’s hard to imagine someone saying that about a Bylsma-coached team.

Second, he’s too enamored of speed. It’s a failing that’s led him to make some questionable personnel decisions over the past two seasons—decisions that attributed directly to Penguins losses.

In an effort to go with a more mobile defense in last year’s playoffs, Bylsma benched steady shot-blocker Jay McKee in favor of Jordan Leopold. With McKee in the lineup the Penguins had gone 4-1, including a resounding Game 1 victory over Montreal. Without him, the Pens dropped four of six to the Canadiens to lose the series.

Bylsma’s made the same mistake this year. Opting for speed over grit, he sat rugged Deryk Engelland in favor of puck-moving types Ben Lovejoy and Matt Niskanen. The Lightning forwards have crashed the Pens’ net without fear of retribution.

In a similar move, the 40-year-old coach has dressed the swift but ineffective Chris Conner over Eric Tangradi. Penguins fans got a glimpse of what Conner can (and can’t) do in Game 6. Meanwhile, Tangradi—who’s been on the ice for the team’s last two power-play goals—remains in cold storage.

History has proven it takes a blend of players and styles to win a championship. It’s time for Bylsma to set aside his personal preferences and go with a lineup and a game plan that gives the team the best chance of winning. If and when he achieves that, he’ll truly earn respect as a top-flight coach.

*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan. 

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
available at TriumphBooks.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com

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  1. Lawny Iris's Gravatar Lawny Iris
    April 27, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Another Spur: Marching out the same PP day in and day out. Everyone knows it’s broken, what harm is there in at least trying to do something different? It can not get any worse then it is now. I (like most of you) cringe when we go on the man advantage. The no Sid or Geno excuse only goes so far. The PP has sucked for a long long time. If DB is unwilling or unable to fix it, hopefully Shero brings in a dedicated PP coach this summer that knows what they are doing

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      April 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Ah … the power(less) play. Talk about your can of worms. You’re right, Lawny, it really wasn’t all that great even with Sid and Geno (and Goligoski). But it’s gone from average to downright deplorable (wish we could decline penalties). I’m sure they work hard on it in practice, but whatever they’re doing isn’t translating to the games. The only thing that sticks in my head is they had Sid running things from the half-boards, and now they don’t have anyone filling that role. At times it seems like Letang, Kovalev and Neal are all trying to run the show, with no real quarterback emerging. The fact that Neal and Kovy like to freelance only adds to the confusion. I really don’t know what the solution is … other than getting a man-advantage goal to settle things down and get some confidence back.

  2. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    April 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your very insightful comments, Coach … You bring up a lot of really good points. It’s true, we don’t get to see what goes on at practice and in the lockerroom. And you’d like to trust that the coaching staff has a pulse on things and will make moves that will most benefit the team. But the Connor thing truly has me scratching my head. The kid tries, but that’s about all you can say. And I thought Tangradi showed decent speed in Game 4. It just doesn’t make sense. Alluding to the Engelland situation, last year when Bylsma benched McKee in favor of Leopold, he compounded the mistake by teaming Jordan with Goligoski. Yes, they handled the puck well. But they were completely overmatched physically by the Habs. Maxim Lapierre victimized Go Go twice for huge, game turning goals. I hoped Bylsma had learned from that. But by teaming Niskanen with Lovejoy, he’s essentially doing the same thing. Without Engelland back there to keep them honest, nobody on Tampa Bay has any fear of driving the net. I just don’t get it …

    • April 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I’m completely with you. I like Tangradi’s size in front of the net and I like Engelland’s toughness in front of the net on the flip side. What it all comes down to is, things aren’t working as they are and something needs to change. There’s no time left to hope they start to gel, it’s game 7. I don’t get it either…

  3. April 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Excellent piece, Rick. I’ve often questioned many of Bylsma’s decisions. Last year was his first full season at the helm and things didn’t end so well in the playoffs. This start of this season was a challenge and I saw sparks of what seemed to be an evolving coaching style, but then he would resort to the same old friendly Dan. I give him all the credit in the world for getting the “kids” through February and March the way he did. But, like you, I have to wonder why he he so opposed to making line-up changes that the rest of us think would benefit the team (namely Tangradi and Engelland). Obviously, we’re not on the ice at practices or in the locker room. But, we do watch the games and see the outcomes and would like to think that things were learned from last year’s mistakes against Montreal.

    • Martin not St. Louis's Gravatar Martin not St. Louis
      April 27, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      You have to hope that the coaches are making changes behind the scenes to keep up with the other teams. For Bylsma being a guy who changed lines at the drop of a hat during the regular season, he sure doesn’t change much during the post season.

      I am a big fan of the speed game Bylsma puts on the ice. I think it works, it has worked and it will continue to work. On defense he could stand a change or two.

      Lovejoy or Niskanen should sit for Engelland. The Penguins need to be tougher around the net and neither of them are cutting it. Also, the pairing of Lovejoy and Niskanen seems to be the weakest link in the Pens armor. Why not split up one of the other pairs of D?

      Tangradi for Conner? Tangradi for Kovalev? Either way would be better. Trading Tangradi for Kovalev you keep the same speed, and add some grit.

      • April 27, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        Tangradi brings some grit and size over Conner. I’d like to see Engelland in for Niskanen. It’s game 7 and things haven’t been working, there has to be a change before puck drop and it doesn’t seem like there will be. I’m baffled.

        You’re right, our speed is an asset. But, only when the rest of our game is working. And, honestly, we haven’t even looked as fast the past couple of games.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        April 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Excellent comments. When I alluded to the neutral-zone trap, I didn’t necessarily mean the Pens should hire Jacques Lemaire and become “New Jersey on the Mon.” But we definitely need to tighten things up defensively. There have been far too many times when the Bolts have gotten behind our ‘d’ and I attribute that to overkill on the “damn-the-torpedos-full-steam-ahead” approach. I know Bylsma likes a 70/30 split in zone time. But it’s what’s happening during the 30 percent in our end that concerns me. I just wonder how much attention he pays to defense in practices.

  1. Pens Lose Game 7, It’s Over : Birds of the Burgh on April 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm


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