In his coaching life Dan Bylsma has been blessed. Unlike many of his peers he spent very little time toiling in the minors or as an apprentice.
He had a short stint as an assistant with the Islanders and baby Penguins and a grand total of 55 games as a head coach in pro hockey before he was named Penguin boss.
When he took over less than a year ago the players were craving change. They were glad to say so long to gruff Michel Therrien and embraced the likable Bylsma. The Pens went 18-3-4 down the stretch and, you may have heard, won the Stanley Cup.
Add a great start this season and Bylsma had won 59 of his first 85 NHL games with a Cup ring to go with.
All of that leads us to this recent spot of bother. For his first time as a head coach, Bylsma suffered through a five-game losing streak. And in turn, he’s begun to push buttons that were dusty and pull strings that have never been used.
And the coaching fraternity says, “It’s about time and welcome to the club.”
Maybe the Penguins are finally a bit tired after two and a half long seasons. Perhaps it’s just the top players. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby were a combined minus-12 during the losing streak and the reality of the cap world is that if the top players aren’t leading the way, there is little depth to pick them up.
So far Bylsma has resisted calling out or blistering his players. He’s been positive while juggling lines and playing Crosby and Malkin together more. But after a win over Atlanta, the Pens didn’t look very good in a 7-4 thrashing at the hands of the Flyers Thursday. They’ve lost six of seven and Bylsma might have to dig deep into the coaching bag of tricks. A bag Ron Wilson in Toronto has already had to empty.
Tune in to see which coach’s head explodes first.
On the hot stove:
Phil Kessel points to last season when he scored 36 goals in Boston, as an example of scoring slumps coming and going and rightly suggests no player scores in every game. The difference is that Boston was a very good team with some depth. The Leafs don’t have any points in the bank account to wait for flying Phil to crank it up again.
Kessel scored 10 goals in his first 15 games and four in the next 17. He left Philadelphia Wednesday with a goal as his only point in 10 games. But he could use a little help. Centre Matt Stajan went to Buffalo without a goal in 12 games and hasn’t been a slump-busting, set-up man either.
Interesting to see how Kessel responds to being publicly spanked by his boss. Wilson has played Kessel with everyone but Wendel Clark to try and get some production, but it’s not likely to break for Kessel until he gets a dirty two-footer off the end of his nose.
ISO camera on:
Evgeni Malkin can be a bit of a showboat but lately he hasn’t had much of a swagger at all. He hasn’t found a winger he clicks with since Petr Sykora left, unless he gets to play with Sid. Malkin has been shut out in six of the last nine games and the Penguins get so few goals from their wingers they have big trouble winning if he’s not getting points.
Malkin owns the Leafs though (seven goals, 25 assists in 14 games) and looks like he’s starting to come around. If the loss to the Flyers is an indication, the Leafs should be ready to deal with Malkin and Crosby playing together a lot.
The Penguins top forwards are locked up for the foreseeable future, but there’s some work to do on the blue-line.
Five of seven defenders are free agents at the end of this season. If the Pens sign Sergei Gonchar and keep him from being a UFA and also re-up Kris Letang, who’s a RFA, they will have almost $50 million US committed next season to 15 players, only four of them D-men.
And, something’s got to give on special teams.
The Penguins can’t score on the power play while the Leafs can’t kill a penalty. The latter is easier to understand than the former if you’re willing to blame a lot of the PK problem on goaltending. Pittsburgh has been blanked on the power play in 25 games, while Leafs have given up a power-play goal in 29 games. Will one be the cure for the other?
From the stat pack:
Crosby wanted to shoot more this season to score more. On the surface it looks like the plan has worked, yet he doesn’t shoot that much more than last season. He’s scored nine more goals on just 28 more shots after 44 games.
Crosby stats after 44 games:
2008-09 – 16 goals, 136 shots on goal
2009-10 – 26 goals, 164 shots on goal
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