Kovacevic: Bylsma better have answers

| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 10:22 p.m.

BOSTON — Get a good look at the Penguins who take the ice Friday night for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.

Get a good look at Jarome Iginla in a Pittsburgh sweater. Brenden Morrow, too. Douglas Murray. On the more painful end, Pascal Dupuis. And on the more once-unthinkable end, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang and … eh, I won't even type the other name.

Get a good look behind the bench, too.

Because if the Bruins manage to produce the same result in the same manner as the series' first three games, be sure that the hardest questions of all once this is done will be aimed at Dan Bylsma.

Not necessarily from me or you, but from the folks whose vote counts.

And be equally sure he'll need to present better answers than what he and his team have shown on the ice so far.

The following answer came Thursday from Bylsma, in response to a question from the Trib's Rob Rossi regarding the importance of the rest of this series to job status: “I have never coached for my job. I came here in '09 to win hockey games. That is where we're at now.”

Right. Winning hockey games. Four in a row, actually.

Or what?

Bylsma gets fired?

Maybe just his assistants, Tony Granato and/or Todd Reirden?

Look, I wrote in this space a couple days before the Stanley Cup playoffs began that Bylsma enjoyed the unconditional backing of Ray Shero and the rest of the Penguins' higher-ups. And I wasn't guessing. It was expressed in the strongest imaginable terms.

But things change. More knowledge builds through more games and, yeah, more emotion. One can only imagine what Mario Lemieux is thinking right now, but he's visible enough that it doesn't take much to see he's fuming. Takes even less effort to see that in Shero, though he isn't talking, either.

I'm of the view that the brunt of blame for this debacle — and when these players muster all of two goals in 11 periods, you're safely into debacle territory — is on the best players, who have been anything but.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have zero points. James Neal, despite a personal shooting gallery in Game 3, has just as many. So does Iginla. So does Letang, along with sharing the ice with the Bruins for 7 of their past 11 goals. These guys just aren't getting it done. If a team attempts a total of 76 shots — including misses — and puts only one puck behind Tuukka Rask over nearly five periods, I'm not thinking, gee, the coach's scheme is really messed up.

I also wouldn't ignore that the breakouts, including the much-maligned stretch pass, have worked well enough for the most part, and the faceoff performance — thanks in large part to a switch by the coaches — has swung violently in their favor.

That said, the single most striking — albeit unofficial — statistic of this series is that this team has, by my count, registered three official shots directly off rebounds.

To review: Crosby had that fat rebound in Game 1 he slapped right into Rask's chest, and Craig Adams and Matt Cooke had one each in Game 3.


And the glaring reason is that, once in the Boston zone, rather than simply gunning and going to the net — picture an armada of Tyler Kennedy clones — they've insanely tried to Mario their way through four boxed-in Bruins, including Zdeno Chara and his 75-foot stick.

That's on the coach.

Even if Bylsma is urging his players to the contrary, if that message isn't resonating, you'd better believe that's the coach's responsibility, too.

So is the stubborn unwillingness to make changes that seem so fantastically obvious:

Does Bylsma really not see how uncomfortable Iginla has looked on the left side?

Does he really think an 0-for-12 power play wouldn't benefit from the tiniest tweak in either personnel or strategy.

Does he really not grasp how Paul Martin could help?

Does he really not see that his alleged net-front presence guy, Chris Kunitz, parks himself everywhere but the front of the net?

That's on the coach.

I'm not ready to bury Bylsma, and I might not be even if the Bruins sweep. He's a smart coach with sound ideas, he's done some innovating with faceoff plays and puck retrieval that other NHL coaches have mimicked, and he still has the locker room on his side. Don't doubt that latter one.

But answers are needed, and nothing would begin that process more pointedly than a victory or two or four right about now.

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