Starkey: Pens' soul-searching commendable
TribLIVE Sports Videos
As the Penguins headed home last spring, after a fourth consecutive playoff flameout, their leaders seemed lost in a haze of conceit and denial.
Problems? What problems? Nothing to see here. Move along.
General manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma seemed intent on continuing to do all the same things with mostly the same people, expecting different results.
Is that not the definition of insanity?
It sure seemed that way.
But they didn't proceed that way.
Give the GM and his coach immense credit: They refused to succumb to the status quo. They pulled a Clint Hurdle is what they did. They “honestly self-evaluated,” as the Pirates manager likes to say, and reached some hard conclusions:
• Their system needed an overhaul.
• Their goaltender needed way more support.
• Their players needed to hear another voice on the coaching staff.
• Their defense corps needed a calming presence.
That's quite the checklist, when you think about it, but Shero and Bylsma aggressively attacked each item. When the team showed up for training camp, it probably looked the same to the untrained eye. But it had changed significantly. The brain trust had addressed each of the aforementioned issues, all to benefit the club next spring but all paying immediate dividends in the form of a 7-2 start.
“Hopefully,” Shero says of the changes, “it'll add up to something.”
If not, it won't be for a lack of effort or humility. This is how the Penguins tackled their priorities:
• They adopted the left-wing lock.
Early last summer, Bylsma decided he would change his system. That's not exactly a tweak.
“It's significant,” Bylsma says.
The result, in simplified form, is a scheme by which the Penguins attempt to slow opponents through the neutral zone as opposed to, you know, waving them along, the way they did in last year's Islanders series. Instead of inviting east-west passing from opponents, the Penguins are trying to suck them up ice, into turnovers, or get them to dump pucks into the Penguins' zone. Odd-man breaks have been nearly non-existent.
“There's more people back,” Bylsma said, labeling the approach in the neutral zone a “three-lane” system. “You always have three people behind the puck.”
Contrary to popular belief, new assistant coach Jacques Martin (more on him in a minute) did not implement this change. Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden were going to install the left-wing lock regardless of changes to the staff.
“I think it's an adjustment for everybody,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “I've never played it — but every game you play, it becomes more natural.”
• They hired a veteran NHL coach.
That would be Martin, 61, who provides a wealth of experience (1,294 games as a head coach) and knowledge.
Martin's focus is on “how we play without the puck, the defensive side,” Bylsma said, but he is more than just a defensive coordinating consultant.
“People forget his team (in 2003-04) in Ottawa led the league in goals,” Shero said.
Martin brings a fresh set of eyes and a teacher's demeanor to the job. When young defenseman Simon Depres was demoted, for example, Shero sent him to see Martin for an evaluation.
“Give Dan a lot of credit,” Shero said. “We'd been talking for a few years about adding to the staff — with something different than what we got. It was a bit of luck that (Martin) was available. Dan was excited to bring him in.”
• They got creative with Marc-Andre Fleury.
Last year, the goaltending move was signing Tomas Vokoun. This year, besides implementing a more goalie-friendly system and bolstering the defense, it was finally getting Fleury to see a sports psychologist and hiring a new goalie coach in Mike Bales.
We won't know until spring whether those moves pay off, but the first step was getting Fleury off to a good start. He's off to a great one. He looks less scrambly around the net, showing more economy of movement, and is casting the vibe of a seasoned veteran rather than that of a playful newbie.
• They brought back ‘The Piece.'
After all the fuss over conforming to a reduced salary cap, Shero found $13.5 million to lure back Fleury's long-lost security blanket – Rob Scuderi.
“He's the piece,” Fleury joked, invoking Scuderi's legendary nickname. “He's great defensively around the net – calm, consistent, steady.”
In other words, precisely the kind of soothing presence Fleury needs.
What's it all mean? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, the Penguins are to be commended.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Many Penguins free agents expected to depart
- More witness intimidation charges filed against Plum teacher
- Scaife trustees seek dismissal of siblings’ lawsuit
- American Airlines manager arrested in Pittsburgh on sex crimes charges
- Suspected allies of beach gunman arrested in Tunisia
- Kuwait mosque bomber slipped security watch in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain
- Penguins re-sign defenseman Cole to 3-year deal
- Shady Side Academy graduate Harchelroad excels in 3 sports
- Deer reporting failures spark debate for Pa. Game Commission
- Scouts think Penguins could regain luster with minor tinkering
- High school notebook: Hempfield softball star Ryan commits to Notre Dame