"Playoffs" Still Loom for Dan Bylsma by @MadChad412 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Playoffs" Still Loom for Dan Bylsma by @MadChad412

All is well in the world of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Sidney Crosby leads the league in points. Marc-Andre Fleury leads all goaltenders with wins. Chris Kunitz leads the league in +/- and the Pens also have the NHL's top three points-per game leaders in Crosby, James Neal, and Evgeni Malkin. This all despite the fact that the Pens lead the league in most man-games missed. Speaks volume to the job head coach Dan Bylsma coaching staff and healthy players have done this season.

Bylsma, who just passed Eddie Johnston for most wins by a Penguins coach of all-time, is putting together another very impressive coaching job this season. Currently the Pens are 32-12-1 and have won 14 of their last 16 games. Again despite numerous injuries and suspensions to key players.

 But we've seen this all before, haven't we?

In 2010-2011, the Pens were ravished with injuries. In fact, both Crosby and Malkin missed the entire second half of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs with injuries. Despite that, Bylsma led the Pens to one of the best regular seasons in Penguins' history, and got the team to a game seven in the first round of the playoffs. The next season the Pens were without Crosby for the majority of the year and still ended up having one of the best records in the league.

This year it's all happening again. Despite missing Neal, Malkin, Tomas Vokoun, Tanner Glass, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Robert Scuderi, and Beau Bennett, among others, for parts of the season, the Pens have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Despite the always changing and banged up lineup, the Pens have the second-best penalty-kill and the number one power play in the league. Despite multiple AHL players being called up, six of them making their NHL debuts, the Pens have won 16 of their last 19 games. Bylsma, a former Jack Adams award winner, is doing the best coaching job of his career.

Bylsma should be a candidate for the Jack Adams award again this year. This is coming from an author who, at times, wanted the Pens to consider replacing Bylsma. The main reason for that is the disastrous outcomes of the last four playoffs for Bylsma and the Pens. The Pens lost to an inferior opponent in the 2009-2010 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens. They followed that with back-to-back first round exits in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers serious was extremely disastrous, as the Pens gave up 28 goals in six-game series loss.

Then came last season's Eastern Conference Finals. The Pens were swept by the Boston Bruins and scored just two goals during the entire series. Bylsma, as with the past, was heavily criticized for his lack of adjustments and coaching abilities during that series, and rightfully so. Bylsma was outcoached badly by Bruin's head coach Claude Julien.

I share some of the same criticism others have for Bylsma. Some of his lineup changes or lack there of are often puzzling. He failed to play Jarome Iginla, a future Hall of Fame player, on the right wing, despite Iginla playing that position for his entire career. Iginla looked out of place on the left side. For some reason, Bylsma seems to dog on young players, Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo for example, and instead seems to favor less talented players over them like Deryk Engelland. Former Pens' defenceman Ben Lovejoy even told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat-reporter Josh Yohe that it is very tough for a young player to play for Bylsma.

However, every coach has flaws. There is no such thing as the perfect coach. The Pens know that very well as they went through six different head coaches during the 1990's and four different coaches in eight seasons before Bylsma. Bylsma is not only the winningest coach in Pens' history, but he also has the best winning percentage in franchise history, despite coaching the second most games. And of course, he has led this team to a Stanley Cup after taking over for Michelle Therrien during the 2008-2009 season.

Yet every night I see numerous complaints about Bylsma. This past summer, a very vocal minority of fans wanted the Pens to make a coaching change. Perhaps they had a few good points. This team should make the playoffs every year. It's loaded with talent. Not only that, since winning the Stanley Cup, Bylsma is 20-20 in postseason games, losing four out the of the last seven series. That's not going to cut it when the expectation is to compete for a Stanley Cup every season. Mix in back-to-back first-round exits, and you're going to have a unhappy fanbase. It's the main reason the fanbase has the mentality of "Well we'll see what they do in playoffs" despite the Pens consistently setting records and impressive winning streaks.

It's not all Bylsma's fault though. His defense was shaky, his highly paid superstars (Malkin, Crosby) failed to register a point in last year's conference finals, and his goaltender (Fleury) has been abysmal during this four-year postseason stretch.

In my opinion, it was a damn good thing that Ray Shero and the rest of the Penguins' front-office decided to keep Bylsma. As I mentioned, the Pens have been crushed with injuries this season, causing them to play a ton of AHL guys. Bylsma's system is the same system that their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre Scranton, implements and had the Pens replaced Bylsma with a guy from outside the organization, these players might not have performed as well, having to play in a different system during their call ups.

Not only that, but the players truly enjoy playing for Bylsma. Hell, Malkin even mentioned Bylsma as one the reasons he re-signed with the Pens so quickly this past offseason. Crosby had said the same thing. Bylsma is a player's coach so that is to be expected. Bylsma seems to be highly regarded outside of Pittsburgh as well, as he was named the head coach of the US Olympic hockey team.

In the end, the Pens won't find out if bringing back Bylsma was a mistake or not until the postseason comes around. If they have another underwhelming or embarrassing elimination, I think it will be time to move on. That being said, as long as they make it past the second round and they're competitive, after the season that Bylsma has already put together, I think he should and will be here for the long haul.

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