Shorter camp presents obstacles for Penguins coaches

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Dan Bylsma has done some impressive things in his brief NHL coaching career.

He took over behind the bench of a sputtering club in mid-February of 2009 and led it to a Stanley Cup a few months later.

Two seasons ago, he nearly directed a team that lost its two best players -- arguably the two best in the world -- because of injuries to a conference title.

Penguins busy getting in game shape

Sidney Crosby and other Penguins players talk about getting ready for the NHL season. (Video by Bob Donaldson; 1/8/2012)

Penguins coach is ready for start of NHL season

Dan Bylsma, coach of the Penguins, talks about the emd of the NHL lockout and getting ready for the start of a shortened season. (Video by Andrew Rush; 1/7/2012)

Crosby, other players weigh in on NHL deal, start of hockey

Sidney Crosby and other Penguins teammates weigh in on the NHL deal and the imminent start of the hockey season. (Video by Andrew Rush; 1/7/2012)

The challenges then seemed enormous, but the one he's facing now might be even bigger.

Because sometime within the next week -- nobody seems to know just when -- Bylsma will try to prepare the Penguins for a compressed season in less time than it takes to get through a decent road trip.

Bylsma said Monday he still does not know the details of training camp -- when it will begin, or how long it will last -- but knows all too well that it will be much shorter than the preseason in other years.

Regardless of whether camp runs five or six or seven days, Bylsma's approach will be simple: He will keep everything that a normal camp would have, with the likely exception of exhibition games, but deliver it in fewer doses.

"We won't leave out anything," Bylsma said. He and his staff just won't be able to go over them as often as usual.

Most of what is taught in camp is given to the players three or more times. Now, Bylsma said, "there are a handful of things" that might be presented only once, although a controlled intra-squad scrimmage could provide another opportunity to reinforce some situational lessons.

"We're trying to get everything twice," he said. "Whereas, in normal times, we're going to get things in three and four and five times. Special teams, we've made plans to get to that four times, if it is a seven-day camp."

While it might sound counterintuitive, given that it's been so long since most of the players competed at the level required during camp and the regular season, Bylsma noted that fatigue cannot be ignored.

"You just can't drive your team into the ground for seven days," he said. "You're going to have to make some adjustments for conditioning. You can't do seven days of battle drills and think that on the eighth day, they're going to be ready to go."

Indications now are that camp will not open before the weekend, and that regular-season play almost certainly will start Jan. 19.

Nothing can be finalized until the collective bargaining agreement that was put together Sunday morning is approved by the players and owners, and that can't be done until representatives of both sides finish work on the memorandum of understanding that will be presented to both parties before they vote.

The NHL Board of Governors, made up of owners and team executives, is expected to conduct its balloting at a meeting Wednesday, with NHL Players' Association members doing likewise, probably electronically, after that.

Bylsma noted that participants in the player-organized workouts held at Southpointe during the lockout employed some of the drills he plans to use during camp, but nothing that happens at informal practices can replicate the demands of on-ice battles in games.

That's part of the reason so many observers, and some players, fear shortened camps will lead to a spike in groin and hamstring injuries once the regular season starts. Bylsma recognizes there might be a temptation to make battle drills more frequent and intense during camp in hopes of accelerating the process of getting ready for games, but suspects that would be counterproductive.

"We have to understand that, maybe in a 25-day camp, you're going to be able to get a certain level of conditioning, and conditioning in terms of physicality that you just cannot achieve in this camp," he said. "If you try to achieve it, you're going to make a mistake."

And when a camp is as condensed as this one will be, there is little margin for error.

"I don't think I'm going to get done with a six or seven-day camp and say, 'Man, I wish I could do this in five,' " Bylsma said. "I'm probably going to say, 'I wish I could do this in a few more days.' "

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For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Dave Molinari: and Twitter @molinaripg. First Published January 8, 2013 5:00 AM


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