Bylsma stages a split workout for Penguins

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Penguins coach Dan Bylsma decided a long time ago that he would pursue a career in ice hockey, and probably never had much reason to second-guess his decision.

After all, he appeared in 429 NHL games as a blue-collar winger for Los Angeles and Anaheim, and has enjoyed considerable success in the early years of what figures to be a long run as a head coach in the league.

It just might be, though, that Bylsma would have done pretty well if he had opted to work in baseball, instead.

After all, he proved Monday that he can throw a curve and hit a home run at the same time.

With the regular season two-thirds over and his team coming off weekend victories against Winnipeg and Tampa Bay, Bylsma opted against conducting a conventional practice at Consol Energy Center.

Rather, he first had the seven defensemen go on the ice for a little more than a half-hour, then had 10 forwards -- Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke were excused for "maintenance days" -- go through a separate workout for 35 minutes or so.

Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson were the only players on the ice the entire time.

There was a brief period in which the forwards and defensemen were there, but the forwards were at one end of the rink, the defensemen at the other.

Bylsma said he has conducted such position-specific practices before, but could not recall when. A random sampling of players didn't turn up anyone who had experienced such a workout, at any level.

"That was definitely a first for me," center Jordan Staal said.

Forward Richard Park, who broke into the NHL in the 1994-95 season, said the same, but clearly won't object to having other split-squad sessions in the future.

"I think it's a fantastic idea, if you really think about it," he said.

"It kind of [breaks] up that monotony that presents itself throughout the season."

That was a popular sentiment in the locker room, and was precisely what Bylsma had in mind.

"At this time of year, having practice and going through a series of drills that maybe you've done throughout the year may not get the attention focused, especially after having played the two games," he said.

"I just wanted the opportunity to take a day, work on some skills, specific skills, individual skills, possibly partner skills on the defensive pairings. ... [We were] really trying to focus on some skills we can get something out of, something where we're going out with a purpose and a plan to get specific skills worked on and improved."

Despres reassigned

Defenseman Simon Despres (knee) was removed from the injured-reserve list and assigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins of the American Hockey League.

He sat out 15 games while recovering from a knee injury in a Jan. 10 game against Ottawa. Despres, 20, has one goal and three assists in 20 NHL appearances this season. He is regarded as one of the Penguins' top prospects.

Starring role

Center Evgeni Malkin was named the NHL's No. 2 star for the week that ended Sunday.

He had three goals and five assists, along with a plus-minus rating of plus-6, in three games and ran his league-leading points total to 69.

Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was the No. 1 star, while St. Louis forward David Perron was No. 3.

Malkin has been honored by the league six times this season.

He was the No. 1 star for December, the No. 2 star for January, the No. 1 star for the week of Jan. 16-22 and the No. 3 star for the weeks ending Dec. 18 and Jan. 15.

Tip-ins

Center Sidney Crosby (concussion-like symptoms, neck) and winger Arron Asham (concussion) had scheduled days away from the ice, Bylsma said. ... Forward Mike Comrie, who played the final 21 of his 589 career NHL games with the Penguins, retired Monday. His career was cut short by nagging hip problem. Comrie is married to singer Hilary Duff, who is scheduled to give birth to the couple's first child next month.



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