Rossi: Bylsma's value goes beyond bench
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Communication is essential in the coach-player relationship.
Dan Bylsma had a couple of conversations this past week that demonstrated his understanding of that reality. Those talks offered a glimpse into an approach that had led the Penguins to a .634 winning percentage in Bylsma's first 333 regular-season games.
Evgeni Malkin was frustrated.
Twice a scoring champion and former MVP of the regular season and postseason, Malkin's post-lockout downswing had carried over into the Penguins' opening 12 contests of this campaign. He had scored only three goals and produced just 12 points. He was on a stretch of one assist in five games.
Making the matter worse: The Penguins, winners only once in four prior contests, were a few hours from facing Boston at Consol Energy Center.
About six months earlier, an overemotional Malkin had contributed mightily to the Penguins' sudden sweep from the Eastern Conference final at the hands of Boston.
Trailing 1-0 at the end of the second period of Game 1 of that series — but looking at a minute and 30 seconds of power-play time to open the third — Malkin fought Bruins center Patrice Bergeron to eliminate himself from the Penguins' advantage opportunity. The Bruins scored twice in that third period to claim a 3-0 victory, which they followed with a 6-1 win in a Game 2 that swung the series.
Malkin never had quite shaken going without a point in the East final or forgiven himself for an outburst in the midst of Boston's four most dominant periods of a series that otherwise featured four combined goals.
“I talked with coach before we played Boston,” Malkin said Friday night. “We talked about my game, (that) I need more shots and to use my partners.
“He said to remember I am (a) good player and (the) team needs me to beat (a) good team like Boston.”
Malkin did not score Wednesday night, but in almost 21 minutes against the Bruins, he attempted five shots and was noticeably active — trying to steal pucks and playing the body. After the game, Bylsma praised Malkin's “best of the season.”
Malkin's next-game response was two assists and a near-goal in a win at home over Columbus.
Jayson Megna was elated.
He played more than 13 minutes in the win over Boston and many of those as Malkin's right winger on the Penguins' No. 2 scoring line. The ice open for him, Megna attempted seven shots. He also delivered three hits.
It was quite an end to his first week in the NHL.
His second started with him as a topic on radio talk shows and being recognizable to fans at the few sandwich shops Megna had taken to frequenting. Oh, and he was playing with Malkin and sitting only a few dressing-room stalls from captain Sidney Crosby.
“Kind of surreal,” said Megna, who signed with the Penguins after impressing as an invitee to a prospect camp in July 2012.
Bylsma, a vocal supporter of Megna's, pulled him aside a day after the Boston game. Together, they watched a replay of his 16 shifts against the Bruins.
“I know him a bit, so that's a factor. I could see in his eyes that this big week for him was getting even bigger,” Bylsma said.
“We just casually watched the (Boston) game. He had a chance to see on the tape that he was playing with people other than Geno. Jayson had also played with Sid and (third-line center) Brandon (Sutter). He was out there with (checking winger) Craig Adams, too.
“I just wanted to keep Jayson … calm because a lot of people were talking about him and Malkin looking good together.”
Megna took another 16 shifts against Columbus on Friday night. He scored his second goal.
The meeting with Bylsma helped, he said.
“It's easy to get mesmerized,” Megna said. “Look at my situation.”
Megna, 23, is trying to establish himself as an NHL regular.
Malkin, 27, is trying to re-establish himself among the NHL elite.
A head coach must be able to reach his players. Bylsma did that with two players at opposite ends of the hockey spectrum this past week.
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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