Numerous issues concern Penguins' Bylsma
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KITCHENER, Ontario -- Dan Bylsma is worried.
Not grinding-his-teeth-all-night worried or chugging-antacids-by-the-six-pack worried, but definitely a bit anxious.
And, even though he understands that most of the other 29 coaches in the NHL would gladly swap concerns with him, it is not as if Bylsma has to invent issues about which to fret as the Penguins prepare to open training camp this weekend.
For while they still have one of the finest collections of young talent in hockey and the nucleus of the group that won the Stanley Cup this past spring remains essentially intact, there are a few good reasons for Bylsma to be a bit edgy about his players' ability to bring the necessary focus and intensity to the coming season.
The Penguins did, after all, win the Cup, and a post-championship hangover is a common malady.
What's more, they have played into June two years in a row, meaning they have had unusually short back-to-back summers -- and thus, less time to rest, recuperate and refocus.
Finally, several of their most important players are in line to play key roles in that moderately publicized competition known as the Olympics this winter, and that has the potential to be a major distraction.
Blend those ingredients, and you end up with the cocktail that gives Bylsma reason to be wary of his team's mindset as it moves toward the coming season, even as its members gather for a celebratory trip to the White House tomorrow.
"I absolutely worry about it," Bylsma said. "But I don't think that's unique. I don't think it's any different [because the Penguins won the Cup]. If we had lost Game 7, I'd be worried about the same thing.
"Are we going to be focused? If you have a bad year, you worry about whether you can raise expectations back up. There's always something to be focused on and worry about as a coach.
"I do think that's an issue we need to be aware of as a team and as a coaching staff in our preparation and our mindset. But that's not any different than any other year. You have to deal with what lies ahead of you."
The Penguins' audience with President Barack Obama should put the final exclamation point on their Stanley Cup revelry, although the banner-raising ceremony before the regular-season opener Oct. 2 figures to rekindle a few warm memories, too.
How the Penguins approach the time between those two events could be critical in determining how the season that follows plays out.
"We need to make sure that we start over again," Bylsma said. "Our name is right back in the hat with 29 other teams that are going to compete for the Stanley Cup. In order to do that, we have to get better, we have to grow together as a team.
"You have to build a foundation, build good habits, a good work ethic, [tend to] the details to your game and you have to learn to win as a team. That's what lies ahead of us, and that's what lies ahead of 29 other teams."
Bylsma and his assistants have some of the responsibility for marshalling the players' attention and channeling their energies properly, but much of it falls inside the locker room. And not every player carries the same burden.
"By the sheer nature of the game, [veteran winger] Billy Guerin is going to do more than a young player, an Alex Goligoski or a Kris Letang," Bylsma said. "Some players are going to have a bigger responsibility than others. Your captain [Sidney Crosby], by nature, will have more to do with it than our second-string goalie.
"I think it's a situation where, in the right circumstances and the right atmosphere, a guy like (free-agent acquisition) Mike Rupp could add a lot to our room. He's won a championship and he's played the season after winning a championship.
"Craig Adams, not a captain and not [an alternate captain], could add a lot in terms of how we practice and attention to detail. [Responsibility] is not exclusive to Billy Guerin or to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, but they will be counted on, for sure."
Good as the Penguins were -- and had to be -- while earning the franchise's third Cup, Bylsma is convinced that they remain capable of elevating their game.
"I look at our roster and see the vast majority of our people -- including myself, including our coaching staff -- whose best years lie ahead of them," he said.
"We need to get better. Our players are going to get better. We're young. We haven't played our best hockey yet."
NOTE -- The Penguins did not have a game in the prospects tournament yesterday, limiting their work to a late-morning practice for a handful of players at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. They will play Ottawa at 7 tonight before closing out the tournament against Boston tomorrow.
First Published September 9, 2009 12:00 am