Bylsma again molds injury-plagued Penguins into winners
By Josh Yohe
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Dan Bylsma and his staff are doing it again.
The Penguins have been victims of their annual unprecedented bad luck, playing the first half of the season without an abundance of stars because of injuries and other reasons.
But the Penguins again sit atop their division and lead the Eastern Conference.
How do they do it?
“I think this is a very good organization in every possible facet,” right wing Craig Adams said. “I think the scouts and everyone else have done a really good job of getting the right people. And, obviously, we have a very good coaching staff.”
Bylsma is clearly at his best when the Penguins aren't their healthiest.
He won the Jack Adams Award in 2011 following a season that saw the Penguins produce 108 points — the second-highest total in team history — despite playing the second half of the campaign without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
With the stars out, the Penguins altered their style as Bylsma willed them to win with grit and determination.
“We aren't as skilled as usual right now with the people we've had out of the lineup,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “But this coaching staff just has a way of getting guys to play so hard.
“We're making up for the lack of skill right now with pure battle level. I think everyone is getting the job done right now, and that's a credit to the coaches and the organization.”
Crosby has remained in the lineup through the recent absences, but so many regulars in the lineup haven't been so lucky. Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass, Deryk Engelland and Chuck Kobasew have missed significant time.
It's gotten so bad for the Penguins that even some of their call-ups from the AHL — Jayson Megna and Andrew Ebbett — have suffered serious injuries in recent weeks.
And yet the Penguins have carried on, winning 12 of their previous 14 games to remain comfortably ahead of the pack in the Metropolitan Division. Winning the President's Trophy, which is awarded to the team with the most regular-season points, seems possible if they ever get healthy.
Even with all the injuries, Bylsma and his staff are producing a winner.
“I think the coaching here is just so good,” said forward Zach Sill, who is one of the replacement players from the AHL who has done a steady job.
“We are always prepared to play. That's a credit to the coaches in Pittsburgh, and it's also a credit to what's going on in Wilkes-Barre. This organization is just filled with people who know what they're doing.”
Bylsma doesn't seem surprised by his team's recent play.
He believes in his system and in the organization's talent pool. Those players apparently believe in him, too.
“You might not think it's a high probability to win this often with these people out of the lineup,” Bylsma said. “But we've got guys who are going out there and doing the right things and doing them well. We haven't sounded off any fire alarms because Malkin and our top four defensemen are out of the lineup.”
There haven't been fire alarms. But the red light has been lit enough to keep the Penguins right where they want to be, no matter who occupies the uniforms.
“It's pretty cool to be a part of this,” Sill said. “It's just a good hockey team.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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