Bylsma on brink of tying Penguins mark for victories



Dan Bylsma, at 231 wins, is one away from matching Eddie Johnston for the most coaching wins in Penguins history. He could pull into that tie in a matinee today when the Winnipeg Jets visit Consol Energy Center.

A tongue-in-cheek suggestion Saturday that it's reasonable to expect that he will collect at least two wins to secure sole possession of first place before the season ends in April brought a laugh from Bylsma.

"I won't make it to the end of the season if I don't," said the man who has coached the Penguins to the best record in the Eastern Conference with 30 wins and 61 points in 43 games, just two past the midpoint of the 2013-14 season.

Bylsma, 43, has won a Stanley Cup and a Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach since he took over as a rookie NHL coach in February 2009. He has guided the Penguins through a mountain of injuries this season and in the past. He has been tabbed by USA Hockey to coach the American squad at the Sochi Olympics in February.

Bylsma also has endured criticism, even calls for him to be fired, after playoff disappointment in recent springs.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Penguins vs. Winnipeg Jets, 1:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Ondrej Pavelec for Jets.

Penguins: Have won 11 home games in a row, one shy of team record. ... Have won 12 home games in row vs. Winnipeg/Atlanta, longest active home streak vs. any NHL team. ... Matt Niskanen has 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in past eight games and leads team defensemen with 20 points.

Jets: Have lost the first two games of a three-game road trip against the Eastern Conference. ... Their 45.8 percent success rate in faceoffs among lowest in NHL. ... Dustin Byfuglien has 3 goals, 8 points in past 8 games.

Hidden stat: The Penguins have scored four or more goals in six of their past eight games and are 17-0 when scoring at least four times.

Through all of that, Bylsma has greeted new players, lost others, shuffled his line combinations countless times, tweaked his system -- but always marched ahead with a teacher's mentality and a sunny outlook that infects his personnel.

"He's got a good way of dealing with players, and with people in general," Penguins center and team captain Sidney Crosby said. "He communicates and let's guys know where they stand. No matter what role or what position, I think it's important to communicate, and I think he does that pretty well.

"There are a lot of different ways you can explain one thing. He has a way of being positive and kind of looking at the brighter side of things rather than being too negative. I think that goes a long way."

Bylsma is the 21st man to coach the Penguins. Two, including Johnston, coached the Penguins in separate stints.

Johnston, also a former Penguins general manager, was 232-224-60 as a coach, a 516-game tenure divided between the dark times of 1980-83, when the Penguins were so bad that they got the top pick in the 1984 draft and selected Hall of Fame center and now team co-owner Mario Lemieux; and the better times of 1993-97, when the team was basking in the glow of a couple of Stanley Cup titles.

Bylsma already holds the franchise record with 36 playoff wins and will get to 232 regular-season wins much faster than Johnston -- he is at 231-105-26 over 362 games.

But Bylsma credited Johnston with a primary assist in his coaching career, dating to his time as an assistant and head coach with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

"E.J. came down to Wilkes-Barre and helped us out -- oversaw, mentored over the 21/2 years that I was there," Bylsma said. "When I got to Pittsburgh, he was still a factor, coming in and helping out with coaching, helping us out with ... power-play situations, game situations, how the team's playing."

Johnston is retired but still attends several games. He was at a 5-2 win Friday against the New York Rangers.

"He came down after the game and picked apart a few things," Bylsma said. "I still count on [Johnston] to give that coaching advice. It's been there as long as the short time I've been here."

That's not the only constant in a coaching career that Bylsma planned for and thought about dating to his time as an NHL player.

Bylsma is always pushing forward.

"I don't approach it any differently with the players -- we're working to get better," he said. "I feel that same way as a coach. I don't feel like I've not changed. I don't feel like I've made an effort to stay the same. I'm trying to improve in a lot of different ways.

"Have I done things differently? Significantly. Have I changed things? Have I improved and gotten better? Significantly in a lot of areas, and I keep working on it, whether it's evaluation, postseason after disappointments, different situations. I don't ever see that not being the case -- working to get better and to improve and to keep at it. It's not a stagnant situation."

Bylsma is known for his attention to detail.

"He's got a lot of preparation, a lot of meetings, a lot of video," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We're ready when we play teams."

And if, after all that preparation, there is a breakdown, Bylsma does not react with his own form of a breakdown.

"If there is a mistake, you're [expected] to learn from it and then move on. Just move on," Fleury said. "It's all about the next play.

"He's not going to yell at you for every play you do wrong. He would want to talk about it, see what's going on, see what's wrong. Look at video.

"He likes video."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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