Plug ‘N’ Play Penguins Too Predictable? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Plug ‘N’ Play Penguins Too Predictable?

For the past couple of seasons I’ve watched with increasing alarm as the Penguins have downsized (and defanged) in order to better fit Dan Bylsma’s “damn-the-torpedoes, full-steam-ahead” system.

It’s no secret that Bylsma’s approach is predicated on wearing the other team down with a relentless attack. While speed certainly is an asset in today’s up-tempo NHL, it can’t be your only asset. To draw a baseball analogy, if a pitcher throws nothing but fastballs—even if it’s a very good fastball—he’s eventually going to get lit up.

Same thing in hockey. When you’ve got all four lines playing the same way—at the same pace—opponents are eventually going to adjust to your rhythm and counter effectively. You have to be able to change speeds once in a while.

If I seem a bit wistful for the not-so-distant days when big Georges Laraque used his considerable bulk to pin the puck behind the other team’s net for entire shifts at a time, I am. To me the present-day Penguins are way too tailored to suit their coach’s preferred style. Watch the next time the team celebrates a goal. With precious few exceptions, everyone’s the same (Smurfish) size. Chris Kunitz is Tyler Kennedy is Joe Vitale is Craig Adams is Matt Cooke. Great if you’re ordering one-size-fits-all jerseys. Not so great for building a Stanley Cup champion.

It’s not that I don’t like these guys. I do. They bust their butts and give everything they’ve got, game in and game out. But a championship team requires a blend of players who possess different talents, intangibles and physical attributes.

In my mind, the New York Islanders of the 1970s and ‘80s were arguably the greatest team ever assembled. For every super-skilled guy like the incomparable Mike Bossy they had a warrior like Bob “Knuckles” Nystrom (an early version of “Scary” Gary Roberts). For every mighty mite like Butch Goring they had a behemoth like Clark Gillies. They were exquisitely balanced.

When we won the Cup in 2009, guys like Hal Gill, Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, and Rob Scuderi were big (no pun intended) contributors. Given that all were speed challenged to a varying degree, I doubt if Bylsma would welcome any of them back. Yet they made the Pens a more complete team.

Shame on Ray Shero for drinking from Bylsma’s Kool-Aid. It’s time for the Pens GM to reassert himself and initiate an on-ice diversity program. Let’s break with the downsizing trend of recent seasons and reinforce the team with some much needed muscle. The Pens have nothing to lose and a Stanley Cup to gain.


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  1. 55 on point's Gravatar 55 on point
    February 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the plug and play reference, it reminds me of a Johnny Unitas interview I watched years ago in which he said, “If you go out on the field and execute your game plan as you designed it and practiced it, you could tell the other team what you were going to do and still be successful.” Of course I paraphrase, but that was the gist of it. I think that’s probably true. Who am I to debate Unitas? When the Pens play the system like they care and are interested, it works. New Jersey has been predictable for a long time. You can’t argue with their record as one of the more successful franchises in the league during that period. They play their “system,” and do it better than most on a consistent basis. Well, except for Kovalchuk! And, I don’t think it’s a coaching thing. It’s a player thing.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      You make a lot of good “points” (no pun intended). A friend of mine who played high school and college hockey claimed the Pens would’ve beaten the Flyers last spring if they’d stuck with Bylsma’s system, instead of half the team playing one way and half playing another way.

      Still, I have issues with the Pens’ attack-first style. When they’re forced to play in their own zone for any length of time they struggle, although they’ve looked better lately (the defense is more balanced with Robert Bortuzzo in the mix).

      I definitely have issues with their lack of size up front. With all the skating, cycling, and digging in the corners that’s required, Bylsma’s system is physically demanding. Even the best conditioned 5’11” 195-pounder is going to wear down after a while if he goes up against a steady diet of bigger, stronger foes.

      Call me old-fashioned (which I am), but I think a couple of 215-pounders (who can play some) would greatly enhance the Pens’ chances over a long playoff run, even if they aren’t going to win any speed-skating competitions …

  2. Brian's Gravatar Brian
    February 2, 2013 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    Watching the penguins play in the shortened 2013 season, coach bylsma has the toughest job in the NHL, by deciding should I put Crosby and Malkin on the ice at the same time on this shift, or should I try to mix it up by putting Malkin and Crosby on the ice at the same time on this shift? Hmmmmm…what should i do?

    It is incredibly stressful to make those kind of decisions in this shortened 2013 post lockout season, what are your thoughts, don’t you agree?

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 3, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Hello Brian.

      I agree that with the compressed 48-game schedule, there’s more pressure on Dan Bylsma and coaches throughout the league to push the right buttons. Teams can ill-afford to go on prolonged losing streaks when the season is essentially a sprint to the finish line.

      Regarding the decision on whether to play Crosby and Malkin on the same line or split them up, you touched on an interesting issue. As good as the Pens’ top-end talent is (Sid, Geno, Neal), the team is still a bit thin on wing. That’s why they picked up Zach Boychuk. As a former No. 1 pick, they’re hoping he might have the skill, speed, and instincts to mesh with Sid or Geno.

      If Boychuk doesn’t pan out, I wouldn’t mind seeing Brandon Sutter get some ice time on the top lines. I think he’s got some underrated offensive skills that are being wasted on the third line …


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