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Penguins' Bylsma and Blue Jackets' Richards know each other well

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 10:03 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma watches action from the bench during the third period of a first round Stanley Cup playoff game against Columbus Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma talks with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the bench during the second period of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff game against Columbus on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
FILE - In this April 12, 2014 file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards, center, talks with referee Tom Kowai (32) during an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. Few people outside of their dressing room think the Blue Jackets have even a remote chance of beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After years of being an NHL doormat, they're used to being overlooked and underappreciated. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards possess an extra 24 hours to find an edge.

The additional day probably won't be enough.

Bylsma and Richards are so familiar with one another that uncovering any mysteries or vulnerabilities in their respective systems seems unlikely before the Penguins host the Blue Jackets in Game 2 of their first-round series Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

“They are so similar system-wise,” said Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu, who played under Bylsma in Pittsburgh. “Adjusting to the practice drills in Columbus wasn't a problem.”

Bylsma and Richards always will be connected.

Richards was the head coach at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when he hired Bylsma as his assistant.

The two had success together before Richards moved on to become an assistant for the San Jose Sharks. He later became coach of the Minnesota Wild and now the Blue Jackets.

Bylsma had instant success after replace Mike Therrien as Penguins coach in 2009, while Richards appears to be coming into his own as a coach in his second stint.

The respect the duo has for one another is abundantly clear.

“I learned a lot from Dan,” Richards said. “Dan is a very smart man and a smart hockey guy.”

The two coached together in Wilkes-Barre, which creates familiarity.

However, Richards said the time spent with Bylsma and Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato during the past year was particularly valuable.

Bylsma, who coached Team USA in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, decided to tab Richards and Granato as assistants.

Some of the conversations the coaches had during preparation for the Olympics remain fresh in Richards' mind.

“We were speaking freely in those meetings,” Richards said. “I probably learned a lot more from that than in our time together (in Wilkes-Barre). Talking systems, you're able to pick up on things. It's the same for him too.”

The Penguins made some well-documented changes to their system entering the season, implementing a more controlled approach to neutral zone play.

Richards, with a slight smile, explained he is well aware of the changes Bylsma and new Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin made.

“He's (Bylsma) talked about doing different things in the neutral zone,” said Richards, who said he has read accounts of changes to the Penguins' system.

“I know exactly what he is talking about.”

Letestu insists the two are similar in almost every conceivable way.

“I know they know each other well, and I can tell you that they're both really good at in-game adjustments,” Letestu said. “It's kind of a friendly battle, I guess. They're both player's coaches. I think Dan is more animated at times. He's just a louder personality. Todd's pretty reserved. But they're both a treat to play for.”

Bylsma often speaks fondly of Richards and still remembers when he spoke with Richards for the first time regarding the opening for the assistant coach job in Wilkes-Barre.

“I was standing in the sun porch of my brother-in-law's house in Chicago for the interview,” Bylsma said. “I pace a lot when I talk on the phone, so I had to buy my brother-in-law a new carpet for his outdoor living space. I remember the interview quite vividly.”

Richards sounds like he remembers everything vividly that Bylsma says about hockey.

Bylsma, of course, knows his opponent just as well.

“I learned an awful lot,” Bylsma said of his time coaching with Richards.

The coaching showdown continues Saturday. It quite clearly remains a friendly showdown.

“It wasn't a fluke that we had success (together),” Richards said. “It was both of us working together. His personality and my personality, we worked well together.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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