Penguins: Attention focuses on Bylsma, staff
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The ticker is dotted with problem areas for the 7-8-1 Penguins.
It has been the power play a lot, although they have a goal with the man-advantage in each of their past three games.
It has been the goaltending, with backup Brent Johnson far outshining franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
It has been winning at the new Consol Energy Center, where they are 2-5.
Wednesday night, it was following up some of their best play over two periods with a monumental third-period collapse in a 7-4 loss against Boston.
As with any club, especially one with star players, when the weak spots add up, the top spots inevitably draw the most heat.
Game: Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Dan Ellis for Lightning.
Penguins: Are 3-3 vs. Tampa at home past three seasons. ... Kris Letang was tied for NHL lead among defensemen with 15 points before Thursday night. ... Led league with 456 hits through Thursday.
Lightning: Are 2-1 on second night of back-to-back games. ... Among best penalty killing teams, 90.8 percent before Thursday night. ... Dominic Moore among leaders in shooting percentage (.250) before Thursday night.
Of note: Lightning gave up 4 short-handed goals in first 14 games.
That means that when the Penguins take on Tampa Bay at home tonight, the scrutiny might not be primarily on the matchup of Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Penguins center Sidney Crosby, the top two scorers in the NHL through Thursday.
It will be heavily on coach Dan Bylsma, his system and his staff.
At least, judging from the first 15 games, it will be within the news media, the sports talk chatter and the Internet traffic.
The players, though, gave Bylsma and his assistants a vote of confidence after practice Thursday at the arena.
"We've won a [Stanley] Cup with Dan," winger Tyler Kennedy said. "He's one of the best coaches around. Everyone believes in him. Tony Granato's got a lot of years under his belt and was a great player when he played. So was Todd Reirden. Gilles Meloche was great, too."
Bylsma is in his second full season with the Penguins and just his third full season as a head coach at any level.
He said he was aware when he was hired to replace Michel Therrien on Feb. 15, 2009, that coaches face an abundance of wrath from fans and other sectors if things aren't going as expected, but he doesn't sense any problems with his players.
"That's not the indication I have," Bylsma said.
Nor does he gauge the critiques taking place outside the organization.
"My focus is on our team and what we need to do and where we need to go, and I don't spend a lot of time or mental energy elsewhere," he said.
Bylsma broke in with a pretty fair ice-breaker after taking over. He guided the Penguins to an 18-3-4 stretch run in 2009 after they were in danger of missing the playoffs and followed that with the Stanley Cup title. He is 54-36-8 since.
"Everybody respects our coaching staff," said Fleury, who certainly has firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be in the fans' cross hairs.
"They're hard-working guys. They do a lot of work on videotape, always trying to show us the right way."
Fleury's subpar season has brought some less than flattering attention to his position coach, Meloche, and that makes the goaltender bristle.
"For me, the bottom line is Gilles is not on the ice playing for me. I'm out there," Fleury said. "I would not want him to take any heat."
It appears, though, that that's part of the everyday life of a coach.
The previous couple of seasons, for instance, when the power play hit a slump, then-assistant Mike Yeo, who oversaw that unit, was roundly criticized. Bylsma has taken over primary duties with the power play this season.
The questions now surrounding Bylsma appear to include his in-game adjustments, his system -- an aggressive approach that emphasizes a quick transition game heavy on puck possession, but that in the third period on Wednesday led to mistakes and five unanswered Bruins goals -- and his motivation techniques.
"It's none of those," forward Mike Rupp said.
Rupp believes the responsibility for being a sub-.500 club rests with the players, not the coaches.
"I think there are certain aspects of our game that have come along in the last week or so, but there's still some bad decision-making as far as the circumstances in the game, where the situation is presenting itself, and we're making poor decisions," he said, citing plays against Boston in which the Penguins took too many risks with the lead and ended up handing the Bruins a lot of golden scoring chances, including several odd-man breaks.
"I think it's just us individually bearing down and making good decisions," Rupp said. "No one's pointing the finger at anyone else. We all have to shoulder an error when an error's made."
First Published November 12, 2010 12:00 am