Who would have thought that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be playing at this level? Sure they have been at the top of the weak Metropolitan Division for pretty much the entire season, but the fact that they are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is more than impressive. With the endless list of injuries, it would be more appropriate to call this a miracle.
For head coach Dan Bylsma, there were questions of whether or not he would enter this season behind the Penguins’ bench after last season’s collapse in the Eastern Conference Finals. And during the team’s weak start in the beginning of November, some even wondered if he would finish this season with that job.
Well, despite the speculation, Bylsma is owed a debt of gratitude by the city and its fans for the job he has done. He is currently running a team that has been missing defensemen Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin in recent weeks. To add to that, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang have been out of the mix as of late and Deryk Engelland is serving a five-game suspension.
As far as forwards go, the Penguins are currently playing without Evgeni Malkin, Beau Bennett, James Neal, Tanner Glass. Andrew Ebbett and Jayson Megna. With the slew of injuries, Bylsma has had to rely on Pittsburgh’s deep minor league system. Nowadays, it seems as though you would be watching a Wilkes–Barre/Scranton game.
It is amazing that the Penguins are the top scoring team in the East. And the fact that they have won 10 of their last 11 games is beyond me. After I spent a week or two bashing Bylsma, he is starting to make me believe that he could once again be up for the Jack Adams award this season.
Even when you have the best player in the game and the league’s top scorer in Sidney Crosby, there are indeed ways to lose games. Lately, Bylsma is taking more of a no-nonsense approach with his young squad and has them playing at a level that makes them a top contender for the Stanley Cup.
Making sure the team is supporting each other on the boards, knowing what guys to put on the ice in certain situations and giving the young rookies the confidence they need are the things he must continue to do. And owning the NHL‘s top power play unit and third best penalty kill is always a plus.
What still remains a concern is the goaltending issue. It is imperative that Bylsma prepares for the worst when it comes to backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has missed all season with a blood clot in his pelvis. There is still no telling what the 37-year old netminder will look like when and if he returns.
As I have preached over and over again, Disco Dan needs to be careful of playing Marc-Andre Fleury too much during the regular season — especially now that current backup Jeff Zatkoff has found his groove. He no longer has the excuse of not owning a solid backup to Fleury as Zatkoff has won his last five games. Goaltenders in today’s NHL cannot play 65-plus games before entering a two-month playoff. This is where good goaltenders like Henrik Lundqvist and Roberto Luongo get a lot of undeserved criticism. They fall into that same category as Fleury.
If Bylsma can refrain from making this fatal mistake he will have many people talking when it comes time to hand out the Jack Adams award. He has this injury-plagued team firing on all cylinders with no signs of letting up.