Rossi: Fans blame Bylsma, but Pens’ issues go beyond the bench
By Rob Rossi
Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013, 8:51 p.m.
Updated: Sunday, March 3, 2013
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.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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Excellent comment Jared! I’d like to point out the other issue, the elephant in the room: chiefly salary cap and drafting. I looked back at the 2008-2009 salaries versus the 2012-2013 salaries to compare what percent is occupied by the core five guys: Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Fleury and Staal/Sutter. I trimmed the 2008-09 roster so the base was roughly 61 million for each year. In 2008-09 the core represented 31% of the salary; whereas, in 2012-13 the core represents about 46% of the salary (and is about to grow with Letang’s new contract). What this means is that the rest of the roster has to be filled out with 15% less salary than back in 2008, which means either younger inexperienced players or less skilled guys (or combo of both). The Blysma system requires players who are highly skilled at puck management to create speed and mismatches for a scoring opportunity, with less attention to defending the defensive zone. The logic being that if you have the puck then you don’t have to defend as much; or, the best defense is a good offense. The problem is that the mismatches aren’t consistently such, which neutralizes the scoring advantage the Penguins gain by having Malkin and Crosby. If the salary cap had expanded to 75-80 million, then the Penguins could afford they same level of talent and skill they had back in the “Cup years.” But, now they are trying to serve “champagne on a beer budget” if you will. What appears to be evident is that either the system has to change to a more defensive posture with bigger guys to win battles along the boards and in front of the net; or, the team has to find highly skilled guys in the draft to fit the system or either Malkin or Crosby has to go to free up cap space to round out the roster with more skill. Drafting has been to the consideration of the system (think small puck moving defensemen which the organization has several. The problem here is in the past four-five years nothing has materialized from Shero’s drafts (except some recent play by Bennett and Despres which speaks more to the desperate need than overwhelming production). Personally, I’d opt to change the system. It appears that Blysma coaches to just one style. Or else, there would have been modifications to the team’s style over the past few years. In my opinion, if you change the system then you will have to change the coach and your drafting. Further, what is considered draft assets now may not be so much in the new system. Typically the fans are the first to recognize the need for change because they are the ones buying the product rather than being married to it. And, like a canary in the coal mine I hope the “bird” doesn’t have to die before the management recognizes that this team needs some fundamental changes to be considered cup worthy again.
Submitted by: Jared on Sunday, March 3, 2013
Slow down, kids. I think the things that Bylsma's critics are on about are not by any means "suddenly" issues, and some of the arguments have a fair amount of logical force. Coach B inherited the team in 2009. Yes, he won a Cup that year...but he relied upon the nucleus of a team - Mike Therrien's team - that had been to the Finals and lost to a very good Detroit team less than one calendar year before. Since 2009, Bylsma's teams - the ones he coached, with his system fully in place, his personnel decisions, his preparation - have what can even charitably be called an exceedingly pedestrian 12-14 record in the playoffs. They have not been past the second round since they won the Cup, and have only been past the first round once. That's right - in three seasons since winning the Cup, they've won a total of one playoff series, and you have to go back to the year immediately after they won the Cup for that. They've been embarrassed by an eighth seeded Montreal team that barely made the playoffs in one of those early postseason exits. They blew a 3-1 series lead to Tampa in another. And they were flat out incinerated by the Flyers in the third. That's not "suddenly" anything. Critics will say that the portrait painted above is of a guy who got lucky once over a period of about 3 months with a team assembled and taught by someone else, and that for years since then it's been underachievement after underachievement. Is that all Bylsma's fault personally? Of coure not. Injuries have been part of it...and in a salary cap world, every team will have some flaw(s) to be exploited, and the Pens have consistently lacked depth on D and on the wing since their Cup win, because they opted to go all in for the center position. But far less has cost other coaches their jobs in the NHL over the years. Ray Shero finally has quite a bit of salary cap room to use this year and some fairly desirable assets to trade if he wants to, so it seems unlikely that the current lineup will be identical to the one that goes into the playoffs. He's not the type to panic, so I wouldn't say that Bylsma should be looking over his shoulder just yet. But it is also entirely legitimate to wonder how many years of underachievement you can buy yourself by catching lightning in a bottle once. And if the Pens should significantly upgrade their roster for the playoffs this year only to be watching on TV come the second or third round, you have to wonder how much longer the team's patience will last. Particularly if the two best players in the world are healthy and playing in that playoff run. To attempt to dismiss all of that merely by implicitly claiming that those who criticize Bylsma have no point or are "suddenly" overreacting is, I think, off base.