Last spring when the Pittsburgh Penguins were swept by the Boston Bruins, it was a shock to the entire hockey world. The Penguins were out-played in every aspect of the game and most importantly they were out-coached.
Head coach Dan Bylsma was the talk of the town after the devastating Game 4 loss to Boston, but not in a good way. Questions were stirring if Disco Dan would be fired or invited back by GM Ray Shero. Not long after the buzz, Bylsma was signed to a two-year contract extension which will run through the 2015-16 season. Weeks later, he was appointed head coach of Team USA for this year’s Winter Olympics.
With the way Pittsburgh began their season as one of the best teams in the NHL, all was gravy in the Steel City. Then the calender turned to November and things have started to take a downward spiral.
It is no secret that the Penguins have been in an offensive drought as of late. Some wonder if it is a problem reminiscent to that Boston series where the team was outscored 12-2 in the four games and shutout twice.
With a roster that was loaded with offensive firepower, it was baffling to see the results on paper. How did this happen? How has Pittsburgh fallen off to this juncture on the scoreboard? They are no longer in the top-10 in the league in scoring. Their 2.75 goals per game (11th) is not horrific, but they are not losing games by high scores of 6-5 or 7-4. They are being completely shut down.
Could it be that after all this time teams around the NHL are finally starting to figure out Bylsma’s system? For those who are unaware of that system, it breaks down to this: Score goals — lots of goals — and when all else fails put Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together on the same line which does not really benefit the team. It is almost as if he waves the white flag at that point and then stands behind the bench with his arms crossed like he has no clue what to do.
Instead of clamping down defensively and keeping it simple in a game that is low-scoring, he seems to be more concerned about switching up his forwards twenty-some times to open a game up. Next thing you know a simple turnover leads to an odd-man rush going the other way and the puck is behind Marc-Andre Fleury in the blink of an eye.
Speaking of Fleury, what is Bylsma doing about his current goaltending situation? In the last few years, he has over-worked his goaltender to the point where he is physically and mentally drained by the time the playoffs begin. I understand if you do not have confidence in your current backup (and that is on Shero’s end), but how could you not give Fleury a night off in a back-to-back weekend?
Instead of starting Jeff Zatkoff last Friday night against a very weak Nashville Predators team, the Flower was thrown in there for both games. Even though Fleury’s numbers look solid this season, he will be too tired to even think about a bounce-back season in the playoffs. Right now, Bylsma feels he can push Fleury to play 65-plus games this season, put a shorter leash on him when the playoffs start, and throw Tomas Vokoun in if needed much like he did last season.
Guess what? There is no say to how well Vokoun will look if he does make a return. Again, a lot of that problem is on upper management, but he cannot make Fleury start in both games of a back-to-back weekend then start him against one of the NHL’s best Monday night. It is a bit extreme.
These are just a few of the issues one has to think about when looking at the Penguins’ situation right now. Pittsburgh is becoming too predictable and it is benefiting their opponents. If it is broken, fix it. If not, it could cost one his job.