Bylsma has answers, just not his players

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

In a perfect hockey world, Dan Bylsma would be 11 games into the 20 he believes are needed to forge the identity of an NHL club.

However, Day 50 of the lockout has hit, and Bylsma, like 29 other NHL head coaches, is as in the dark as was Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., where his Penguins were to have played the Devils on Saturday night.

Bylsma does not know the NHL's immediate future, but he shared thoughts on the Penguins — specifically last season's playoff loss to the Flyers — in an interview with the Tribune-Review:

Q: Some of your players are skating at Southpointe, and others are playing in Europe. What do coaches miss by not being on the ice every day with their players?

A: The practice part, the implementation part, that teaching part on the ice — it's not something I think I'm perfectly ready to jump right into that for whatever type of training camp you give me. Not having an exhibition game to coach in is one thing I'm not sure how to handle.

Q: What does a coach get out of an exhibition game?

A: I talked to a fellow Western Conference coach this summer, and his team only played us once last year, and he talked about how he couldn't find what our team's rhythm was, how it was tough for him to see how our team plays. The rhythm of the game is something that you can read in other teams and are part of how you coach as well. You fall into those rhythms. Players earn spots, and you count on these players. There are times our players expect to go on the ice — because there has been an icing and we're going to put out a line to capitalize on that. Not only can you, but your players can, too, get that rhythm for how you coach. Some of that in some aspects is like riding a bike, but (new acquisition) Brandon Sutter doesn't know that about me. Nor me him. If you talk about going out tomorrow for a practice with a team, I know exactly what I'm going to do, how I'm going to try to accomplish it and how we're going to try and do that. If you talk about a game, that's a little bit different.

Q: When was the last time you watched film from the playoffs last spring, and what do you want to be the impact of that series on your team?

A: What I watch now is bits and pieces, not games in their entirety. I did, and I have, but some of what we're doing entails watching specific parts of those games. I watch the games in their entirety right afterward. After that, it's not about entirety anymore. It's about bits and pieces and what we (assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden) can extract from specifics parts.

Q: What was the one thing that could be extracted from the way that series against the Flyers played out?

A: It's tough to draw one specific thing that's going to carry over. The hardest thing to do is draw the appropriate conclusions and move forward. I can clearly say, “It's X, and we're going to go in the opposite direction of X.” I can say, “Well, we have to do this way differently,” or, “We have to really focus on how we play.” But I could also ask, “Was it two bad weeks? And if was, did I just throw away a lot of dang good.” If you look at our penalty killing, you're looking at a penalty kill that ranks first in the league over the last two years and one that has done very, very poorly in the playoff series. You might be throwing away what worked. But if you look at different aspects of penalty killing, you might ask, “What did the Rangers and Devils do in their series?” You might run into some interesting things. I have. I'm not going to enlighten you on that. The toughest thing about going through and watching it – and knowing that I don't ever want to see that again – is determining what was a result of maybe two bad weeks and what is something that needs to be extracted from the way that series, and the series two years ago against Tampa Bay, the way both of those series went.

Q: So you're looking at all the playoff exits, not just that loss to the Flyers?

A: Yes, and we're not just looking at our picture. How did the Devils do against the Flyers, what did they do? Who had success against the Flyers, and now what does that mean for what happened to us? Again, I'm not going to tell you, but I've seen some things.

Q: Is there any element from the last two playoffs that somebody could watch the Penguins, if and when the season begins, and say definitively the players have learned from those losses — at least, is there anything your team could show before another playoff begins?

A: Well, no. Absolutely, in a lot of ways, the proof will come then (in the playoffs). We've been talking about the penalty kill, but it's just not that. When you're talking about where we are better as a team, it has to be factored in — what we do in the playoffs compared to what we did in the playoffs. I've looked at Philly vs. Jersey just as much as I've looked at us vs. Philly. I had to.

Q: So the question Penguins fans might have is whether that loss to the Flyers, which still sticks with them — six months later, with all this time because of the lockout — does it stick with you any more than the other playoff losses?

A: Yes, because neither our expectations nor how we played was what our team is, and that's difficult. We missed out on a real opportunity. That opportunity was we really had a chance (to win the Stanley Cup.) To boot, we didn't play to our capabilities in a lot of areas, and that's very difficult.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-380-5635.

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