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Rossi: Fans blame Bylsma, but Pens' issues go beyond the bench

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 8:51 p.m.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma on the bench at Consol Energy Center Feb. 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

The most extreme Penguins fans blame coach Dan Bylsma anytime the Penguins lose.

General manger Ray Shero has the look of somebody who knows any problems go beyond Bylsma or his scrutinized system.

Whatever anybody thinks about the Penguins — and lately even players are privately wondering what is wrong after losses that look the same — a deep playoff run will change everything.

Do not presume this team is built to win the Cup, especially if Evgeni Malkin is not healthy.

Malkin (concussion) has missed the past four games. He should return soon.

Still, the sobering reality is that without Malkin and Sidney Crosby dominant — not good, but wow-gosh great — the Penguins have struggled to win a playoff series, let alone make a run.

Malkin and Crosby combined to average 2.64 points-per-game when the Penguins won seven of eight series. Otherwise, during the Crosby-Malkin era, the Penguins are 1-3 in playoff series when their former MVP centers play, and Malkin and Crosby have averaged 2.29 points in those contests.

Small differences are usually the difference in a best-of-seven series.

Previous Penguins clubs had Jordan Staal, the seventh-leading playoff scorer in franchise history. These Penguins do not, and their fourth-line elements lack what Gary Roberts or Adam Hall (2008) and Miroslav Satan (2009) could provide — at least a threat to score.

Remember, Pascal Dupuis was a fourth-liner when the Penguins won the Cup.

The current version of Tyler Kennedy (two goals, 25 hits as of Friday) — especially compared to the 2009 playoff one (five goals, 31 hits) — makes the third line that much weaker, too.

On defense, the 2008 and '09 playoff corps rarely allowed forwards to own the deep offensive zone — something the Flyers did last postseason, something Carolina's Eric Staal did Thursday night.

These Penguins defensemen can skate. Moving the puck is no problem.

Keeping opponents from skating to scoring areas and moving them once there — BIG problem, and one that will ultimately do in even a goalie on top of his game.

Marc-Andre Fleury was on top of his game last season before the Penguins went all-in to score upon Crosby's second comeback from concussion symptoms. That approach broke him then and will again.

It already may have broken historically reliable backup goalie Tomas Vokoun, who has allowed 10 goals on his last 54 shots faced.

Given the puck-moving emphasis defensively, Penguins forwards must avoid temptation to cheat in the neutral zone. They also cannot easily slip into the habit of trying east-west passes, sometimes blind ones, and sometimes at puzzling times such as on the power play.

So aside from lacking depth, physicality on the back end and consistent responsible play up front, the Penguins are believed to be a Stanley Cup favorite — albeit one with a suddenly lousy coach.

Don't believe it.

Shero doesn't.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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