When Dan Bylsma coached the Pittsburgh Penguins they were one of the best teams in the NHL. But they also had certain…tendencies that did not exactly show the team in the most positive light.
One of the main issues was letting other teams get under their skin. Opponents clearly factored this into their game plan, as their timely agitation was always targeted at players like Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. These were players that were among the Penguins’ most talented, and the most prone to emotional meltdowns.
What transpired during the Penguins’ game against the Flyers on Sunday was a prime example of how this team has changed.
The Flyers were in the Penguins’ heads for a long time. Then, along came Mike Sullivan.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) April 3, 2016
— Lance (@LanceBrennan) April 4, 2016
Letang on the Flyers physicality:
“We hurt them more on the scoreboard. We’re not a team built on toughness. We’re a team built on speed.”
— Jim (@PandaPSU) April 4, 2016
The Flyers, Wayne Simmonds in particular, did everything that they could to get under the skin of the Penguins’ players and throw them off of their game. Not so long ago this would have worked.
This isn’t to say that the Penguins have gone soft. Ian Cole had a timely…and interesting bout with Matt Martin. It was an inconsequential fight, but the important part was that Letang and Sidney Crosby weren’t losing their cool and sitting in the penalty box.
Coach Mike Sullivan has completely changed the culture of this club. I highly recommend that you check out this article by THW’s Mike Necciai that provides more detail on Sullivan’s impact on the team.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
It is not only Sullivan that has changed the culture from the volatile Penguins, to what they are now. Back in 2009, when the team won the Stanley Cup, it had wise veterans such as Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar to guide the young players that made up a good portion of the roster.
Today it is Crosby and Letang that are the wise veterans. Crosby has evolved into the leader that he has always been criticised for not being. Letang has been amazing, on and off the ice. Two players that always had discipline opportunities are now cool, calm, and collected.
Crosby = displaying so much leadership in this game.Aside from 2 goals, Getting back on defense.breaking up odd man breaks with shear HUSTLE
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) March 18, 2016
As strange as it may sound, the core players of the team may have benefitted from having so many young players come up from Wilkes-Barre. It’s one thing to be an example for players that you all but grew up with, but leading young, impressionable newbies is an entirely different story.
Comparing Apples to Apples
Some may find it strange that I completely skipped over the Mike Johnston era of the Penguins. To explain, I am comparing two “eras” of teams that are capable of winning the Stanley Cup. The Johnston teams, his fault or not, never really felt capable of winning it all. For all of his warts, Bylsma at least had the foundation of a championship group. So does Sullivan.
Bylsma’s team had the talent to win it all. “Disco Dan” was a good enough coach to win it all. The team’s fatal flaw was its culture: lack of discipline and focus.
Because of Sullivan, the older and wiser Crosby, Letang, and others, this team has the talent, the coach, and the culture to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh.
Until next time.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.