Determining defense tops Bylsma, Penguins' to-do list for 2014
By Rob Rossi
Published: Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 10:03 p.m.
Dan Bylsma has a lot to do in 2014.
Figuring out the Penguins' defense corps tops a list that includes chasing Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup.
The unofficial start of the season's second half begins Friday at Carolina, and the Penguins' bench boss could welcome the return of defensemen Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi.
Bylsma joked Monday, before the NHL's Christmas break, that he should not think about possible pairings when his defensemen are healthy.
“Every time I've answered this question, it's led to another defensive injury,” said Bylsma, who also will serve as coach of Team USA this winter.
Here are the pairings Bylsma preferred when Kris Letang returned from a nine-game absence to open the season: Letang and Scuderi, Orpik and Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta.
On Monday at Ottawa, the top pairing was Niskanen and Maatta, with the other four defensemen out because of injuries. Orpik (concussion) and Scuderi (broken ankle) expect to play soon, perhaps Friday. Letang (elbow infection) is expected to return in early January, and Martin (broken tibia) could play by mid-month.
Having a dependable top four is the objective because coaches felt comfortable playing only three defensemen in big situations last postseason. That is one of the reasons Scuderi was signed as a free agent.
The other was for him to play with Letang.
Penguins coaches praised Scuderi's presence for their strong defensive start. He will be counted on to handle top-four minutes after he returns.
Orpik and Martin, the team's shutdown pairing since last season, will reunite when everyone is healthy, Bylsma said.
“And I think you'd like to see Olli Maatta still be a factor,” Bylsma said.
Maatta, a 19-year-old rookie, had not looked out of place playing top-pairing minuteswith Niskanen.
Maatta has impressed by being a quick study and ego-free.
He has made fans out of Orpik and Letang.
Orpik is more than the longest-tenured Penguin. He also is their most physical, a tone-setter, Letang said.
Letang, at age 26, still can elevate the Penguins. He was the only NHL defenseman to average a point per game last season. His 11 points in 24 games this season were a significant dropoff from the pace that made him a Norris Trophy finalist a year ago.
Penguins coaches can boil down the last postseason based off Letang's performance:
He posted 10 points and a plus-5 rating in four convincing wins over Ottawa, which the Penguins bounced from Round 2 in five games last spring.
In the Penguins' last two playoff series losses — Boston (2013) and Philadelphia (2012) — Letang had two points and was a minus-9 in the eight defeats by the Penguins.
The Penguins are not their dynamic selves when Letang is not himself — a defensemen capable of changing shifts with his skating, an offensive catalyst.
Scuderi can help him rediscover that form and consistently play to it, Bylsma said.
“I don't think they've really gotten a chance playing together yet,” he said, adding that Letang and Scuderi “absolutely” need that opportunity.
Scuderi has missed 28 games, Letang 14. The Penguins have 43 remaining before the playoffs.
“At some point they've got to get back and get together,” Bylsma said.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Kesler still on Pens’ radar as Shero aims to bring back ‘Big 3’
- Penguins GM Shero’s deadline deals: Addition by subtraction
- Penguins minor league report: Defenseman Dumoulin optimistic for home stretch
- Penguins notebook: Fleury feeling sharp entering tough stretch
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Penguins stave off Ducks’ shooting barrage to win in shootout
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Penguins’ Malkin crashing net like no other
- Analysis: Kesler remains on Penguins radar as Shero looks bring back ‘Big 3’ formula
- NHL official says Neal won’t be suspended
- Penguins notebook: Captain Crosby refreshed, ready to resume play