Dan Bylsma’s Reputation: He Did it His Way

This is not going to end well. But, God-willing, it will be over quickly.

Dan Bylsma has been coaching for his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins since May 1. He’s had some ups, and he’s had a few downs.

But now, more than ever, his back is against the wall. His Penguins, arguably the most talented team in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, trail the Boston Bruins 2-0 heading to Boston for Games Three and Four.

The time for egos is over. The time for pandering to egos is long since passed. There is no more time for experiments. He needs to accept what works, and what doesn’t. His tenure, and his legacy and Penguins head coach depends on it.

Jarome Iginla to the Right Wing, Please

Jarome Iginla (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Jarome Iginla (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The “Iggy” experiment on the left wing has run its course. Iginla hadn’t played meaningful minutes on the left since his junior days, and even then he did so sparingly.

Iginla has history with Crosby from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He was on the ice for Crosby’s “golden goal” in overtime of the gold-medal game against the U.S. He was lined up with Crosby in the Islanders’ series, and it seemed to work out just fine. But perhaps what’s more, is that Chris Kunitz moved seamlessly back to Evgeni Malkin’s line, almost as though he had been there all season.

There has been some speculation that Iginla is still with Malkin because Crosby doesn’t want to part with Kunitz and Dupuis. If this is the case, then perhaps its time for Bylsma to reassert himself as the head coach of this team.

Figure Out Kris Letang

Kris Letang. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Kris Letang. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

He has not been good in this postseason, despite leading the league in playoff scoring for a defenseman.

Far too many turnovers, which have led to goals by the opposition. Most recently, the Boston Bruins’ second goal in Game Two on Monday night. He’s been far too careless with the puck, and far too defensively irresponsible.

And take him off the power play. At least the first unit, anyway. Put Paul Martin at the point. He’s a better distributor of the puck, and he’ll play defense. Bottom line, it may be time to sit Kris Letang for a game and tell him to get his head right.

Adjust and Adapt

I’ve already explained Dan Bylsma’s offensive system. One forward, a winger, at the opponent’s blue line, ready to chip the puck deep while the other two forwards chase it down. This after a lengthy stretch pass out of their own end, which is usually met with two defenders (also both forwards, on the back-check) eliminating, or at the very least, making life difficult for the Pens’ high forward on the blue line.

So when Bylsma sees (which I’m assuming that he does) that this system is being bested by a team who has made the proper adjustments, then he must make adjustments of his own.

The two most talented and skilled players in the universe play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the love of all things holy and pure, please allow Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby to skate the puck up ice, and allow them to make a play to an open teammate. Gain the offensive zone with the puck, and then get it deep if need be.

And I can’t stress enough: PUCK SUPPORT!!! The one thing missing terribly from the Pens’ game all postseason long has been puck support. At times, it looks as though there are only three Penguins on the ice, and two of them are defensemen playing at center ice.

Defense

I don’t care what it takes, but Bylsma must get this team to play defense consistently. Even if it means instituting a trapping style of play. At least that will get the idea in their heads.

Tomas Vokoun was pulled from Monday night’s game against Boston after allowing three goals in 18 minutes of play. None of which could he be faulted for: a breakaway, a turnover, and a defensive meltdown. All three the direct results of skull-numbing decisions with the puck, another trend far too familiar to Pens’ fans.

Tighten up. Start trapping the bejesus out of Boston. Frustrate them defensively, just like they’ve done to the Penguins. And I promise you, 110%, the goals will come.

Of Course it’s Not This Simple

If it were, then I wouldn’t be writing this, now would I? No. I’d be coaching somewhere, at least in the AHL.

Dan Bylsma has to realize what’s at stake here. It’s simply not about just winning The Stanley Cup this season, or failing to do so. It’s first round exits the previous two seasons, and blowing a three-games-to-one lead in the second round in 2010. This team is too talented to lose this way.

Bylsma needs to figure out that it is far easier for Ray Shero to replace one guy (or four, should the entire coaching staff be given the ax), than it is to replace 20. The changes that need to be made are not as simple as I laid out, nor are they as difficult as Bylsma seems to want to make them out to be.

Figure it out, coach. Your job and your reputation depend on it.

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Stay tuned for the piece on Evgeni Malkin. You’ll need to read it with a grain of salt, and an open mind, for sure.