Dan Bylsma

Penguins hand head coach Dan Bylsma three-year extension

Of all the people highlighted in HBO’s splendid 24/7 series on the Winter Classic, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma might have come across the strongest. The Pens’ head coach seemed like a warm, positive presence who steadily maintains an impressive (and open) back-and-forth with general manager Ray Shero.

It looks like that back-and-forth will continue for quite some time, because the team handed Bylsma a three-year extension today. That means he will be under contract through the 2013-14 season.

For all their successes in the ’90s, the Penguins rarely had an outstanding coach aside from a brief run with Scotty Bowman – probably the greatest coach in NHL history. To some extent, it seemed like the club just threw out their big guns and hoped for the best.

So it’s not crazy to wonder if Bylsma is putting together a resume as the best coach in the team’s recent history. Obviously, he helped the team take one step further than Michel Therrien did by winning a Stanley Cup in 2009, but his overall body of work is already a thing of beauty for the franchise.

Bylsma has an overall record of 104-52-19 with the Penguins and has the highest winning percentage (.649) of any coach in franchise history. He also is tied with the legendary Scotty Bowman for the team record in playoff victories (23) and playoff series wins (five).

This season, Bylsma has led the Pens to a 39-21-8 record for 86 points – tied for third place in the overall NHL standings – despite having seen his team already lose 265 man-games to injury. That includes Staal missing 39 games, Crosby missing 27, Malkin missing 25, Chris Kunitz missing 15, Mark Letestu missing 13 and Brooks Orpik missing 12.

The Penguins currently lead the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency (86.8 percent) while ranking fifth in team goals-against average (2.41) and tied for fifth in one-goal wins (19). They’re also tied for seventh in goals scored.

One thing to note about the Penguins’ impressive work without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is that their absence allows Bylsma to run his system as purely as possible. Bylsma was a marginal (at best) NHL player who earned every rep at the pro level by working hard and making intelligent decisions. In many ways, this current, almost star-free rendition of the team is the perfect embodiment of Bylsma’s system and his own game.

Even if this hard-working but hardly scoring edition sputters in the playoffs, it’s been an impressive piece of work by Bylsma. The Penguins’ front office will keep Bylsma, Shero, Crosby, Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and other essential pieces together for the mid-term future, which makes sense considering their success during the last few seasons.

It’s hard to fathom the team regretting this decision, but you never know in this ever-changing league.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.