It's Stanley Cup or bust for coach Bylsma, Penguins
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
Three days after his Penguins were swept from the Eastern Conference final, general manager Ray Shero met with owners prepared to pitch a plan of staying the course.
He never had to sell Mario Lemieux or Ron Burkle on anything.
“They believed in what we were doing, and who we were doing it with,” Shero said. “So that was a short conversation. Then we started talking about what to do next.”
Coach Dan Bylsma is aware that “next” — at least in the view of everybody outside the organization — is the Stanley Cup, or the Penguins will have failed.
“The reaction to losing when we did last season showed that,” Bylsma said. “But I want that pressure. We all do.”
Bylsma — rewarded in the offseason with a two-year extension, a raise and new contracts for longtime assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden — is probably wise to embrace the Penguins' unique expectations.
Shero also does not deny the obvious.
“When you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a lot of people think you should win every year,” Shero said. “It's not that easy to win once. Trust me. But those two are great, great players, and I believe in this group around them, and our coaches, and here is why:
“There are a lot of good teams in this league. How many teams have gone to the Conference final three times in (six) years?”
The list consists of the Penguins (2008-09, 2013) and Blackhawks (2009-10, 2013).
Last summer, following another disappointing playoff defeat, those Blackhawks resisted any urges to eviscerate a proven philosophy of staying steady, kept coach Joel Quenneville to lead its nucleus — and the reward was a hard-won second title last June.
Quenneville tweaked his staff before last season by hiring Jamie Kompon as an assistant. Bylsma did similarly for this season by bringing in third assistant Jacques Martin, a veteran of 30 NHL seasons as a head coach, assistant or general manager.
Penguins players already have adjusted, Crosby said.
As for adjustments to the special teams — well, why bother, the players ask.
The Penguins were second overall at almost 25 percent efficiency on the power play during the regular season. The man-advantage clicked at 21.3 percent in the playoffs, the best for any club that won at least two rounds.
Boston was the next-best Conference finalist at 17.5 percent.
The Penguins' penalty kill looked lost during the compacted 48-game schedule, plummeting from a consistent top-3 unit to 25th overall at just under 80 percent.
In the playoffs, the Penguins were dominant — including against the Bruins, who failed to capitalize on each of their 13 power-play chances.
Still, the Bruins managed to sweep the Eastern final.
Perhaps special teams are overrated when it comes to predicting postseason success?
Equally overrated — and this is a view held by ownership, management, coaches and players — are the opinions of outside voices that called for changes after a fourth consecutive year without the Cup coming back to Pittsburgh.
“Obviously, I'm happy about that decision, because this is where I wanted to be,” winger Pascal Dupuis said. “But also because I look at what we've done, and I know we're real close to doing a lot more.”
Note: The Penguins placed forwards Chris Conner and Andrew Ebbett on waivers Sunday. Those players have until noon Monday to clear so they can be assigned to AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. NHL rosters must be trimmed to 23 by Monday.
All clubs must be compliant with the $64.3 million salary cap. The Penguins need to shave at least $1 million to become cap compliant.
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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