Game of the Week preview: Dan Bylsma keeps Pittsburgh winning without their biggest stars

When you’re the head coach of a high profile team, there’s a lot of pressure on you to get the best out of your team. This is no exception for Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma. When you take away his two best players from the lineup, those expectations aren’t lowered at all. Bylsma having to make due without Sidney Crosby for an undetermined amount of time thanks to a concussion and the rest of the season and playoffs without Evgeni Malkin makes life tremendously more difficult for the Pens bench boss but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the standings or the results since they’ve been out.

The Penguins sit in second place in the Atlantic Division just four points behind Philadelphia for the top spot. That also puts them four points behind the top spot in the Eastern Conference and currently in the fourth seed in the East.  That’s good for home ice in the first round of the playoffs should they stay there and hold off Tampa Bay.

Just how is Dan Bylsma able to keep the Penguins rolling along in spite of injuries to two of the best players in the game? Familiarity. The Pens have had to rely on numerous guys from their AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton from the likes of Mark Letestu to Dustin Jeffrey to Chris Conner. Letestu has seized the opportunity and made himself a valuable contributor. Jeffrey for a stretch this year was the AHL’s leading scorer and with Malkin and Crosby out he’s gotten a chance to show he belongs in the NHL, something which knowing Bylsma from his days in the AHL helps out.

“He brings an enthusiasm to the rink, and something new every day,” Jeffrey said. “When you see a guy who’s genuinely excited to be here every day to teach us, to be on the ice with us, I think it’s contagious. You see with our team the way we play, it’s almost a reflection of the way he carries himself and the way he brings himself to the rink.”

We can recall seeing how Bylsma is with the players from HBO’s 24/7 series and how the young Penguins gravitate towards him and how his mutual respect of all the guys in the room really rubs off on everyone. Bylsma is one of the younger coaches in the NHL and he’s not so far removed from playing in the league. Having a guy like that that can teach and also be a players’ coach is rare to get these days in the league.

Bylsma has also been the watchful eye over the huge seasons that Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang are having at their respective positions. Fleury has been the Penguins best player all season long and while he’s not likely to get much consideration for the Vezina Trophy, he’s been outstanding and virtually flawless all season long. With the Penguins offense unable to generate the goals they normally would without Crosby and Malkin, Fleury has had to be a lot better of late and he’s done so. With a 2.35 goals against average and a .918 save percentage, Fleury’s been incredible this year. After the first month while he was playing shaky in goal, some wondered if perhaps it would be a season-long roller coaster for him. That hasn’t happened and he’s been great.

Letang has only been the Pens leading scorer while Crosby’s been out and he’s doing it from the blue line. With the added responsibility of having to try and lead the defensive corps Letang’s been an offensive spark plug scoring 46 points this season. With eight goals and 38 assists, he’s the guy that’s more often than not getting it together from the blue line. With guys like Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek surrounding him while Brooks Orpik is out with injury, Letang has shined in that role this season. It’s no coincidence that this is all happening under Bylsma’s tutelage.

It’s scary to think what the Penguins would be able to do with a healthy Crosby and a healthy Malkin this year as the Penguins have been emulating their football team playing a blue collar tough brand of game. They’re not flashy, but they can’t afford to be now. Instead, the Pens are one of the hardest working and physically tough teams to deal with in the league. Considering the role Bylsma played while he was in the NHL as a checking center, it’s no surprise that he’s been able to teach his team that edge. Keeping a team afloat and winning consistently without its best players is a tremendous feat and one that makes the Peguins ever more dangerous come playoff time.

‘That’s definitely a huge option for us’: Brian Boyle wants to go back to Tampa

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Brian Boyle spent almost three full years with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at last March’s trade deadline.

The veteran center liked his stint in Tampa so much that he’s willing to go back there when he becomes a free agent in less than week.

“We love Tampa,” said Boyle, per the Tampa Bay Times. “If Tampa wanted to work out a deal, that’s definitely a huge option for us. That’s something that I’ve kind of always thought about. I haven’t closed the door on anything.”

Boyle enjoyed quite a bit of success with the Bolts. During his time there, he scored at least 13 goals in each of his three seasons, which isn’t bad considering he was more of a bottom-six player when he was there.

It’s unclear if the Bolts would be willing to take him back at this point, but a big factor will likely be his contract demands.

“(Tampa) is a great place to be, great place to start a family. And, honestly, we’ll see what they say. You want to be wanted. That’s the other part.”

The Lightning have just over $23 million in cap space right now. That seems like a good amount, but they still have to sign Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr. It’s also pretty clear that they’re in the market for a top four defenseman, and that won’t come cheap. As of right now, they only have three blue liners on one-way contracts.

The 32-year-old is coming off a contract that paid him $2 million per season. He should be able to fetch a higher number if he hits the open market.

Report: ‘Canes re-sign Masterton Trophy finalist Derek Ryan to one-year deal

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The Carolina Hurricanes have reportedly taken care of some business on Monday morning, as they’ve re-signed forward Derek Ryan to a one-year deal worth $1.425 million, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

The 30-year-old had 11 goals and 29 points in 67 games during his first full NHL season.

Ryan’s journey to the NHL is a great story.

He played three full seasons of junior hockey with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs (2004-2007) before joining the University of Alberta hockey program for four years (2007-2011). Once he completed his Canadian University hockey eligibility, Ryan went on to play three seasons of pro hockey in the Austrian League and one year over in Sweden. He came back to North America for the 2015-16 season, where he played 70 games with AHL Charlotte and six games with the ‘Canes.

Ryan was a finalist for the Masterton Trophy, which is awarded to “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”

“I feel a little out of place,” Ryan told NHL.com during the 2017 NHL Awards. “A couple of years ago, I was battling my way through the European leagues and all of a sudden here I am at the NHL Awards and just kind of taking it all in.”

PHT Morning Skate: 6 teams that have work to do before the start of free agency

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–USA Today looks at six teams that have some work to do before the free-agent market opens on July 1st. The Coyotes are gonna need to find a new coach, Vegas will have to keep tweaking their roster and the New York Rangers still need that puck-moving defenseman. (USA Today)

–The Dallas Stars have been searching for a number one defenseman for a few years now. You have to believe they were excited to land Miro Heiskanen third overall on Friday. The Dallas Morning News shares five things you need to know about their new top prospect. Yea, he wasn’t even both when Dallas won the Stanley Cup in 1999. (Dallas Morning News)

–Does your team need a center? NHL.com compiled a list of the top free-agent centers that are scheduled to hit the open market on Saturday. If clubs are looking for size down the middle, they could do worse than Joe Thornton or Martin Hanzal. (NHL.com)

–If you’re a fan of great hair, you’ll enjoy this. The Score looks at the top 5 “flows” from the NHL Draft. Nico Hischier wasn’t only the top pick in the entry draft, he also found himself on the top of this list, too. (The Score)

–2017 Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns went to Disney World with his family during the off-season, and many of the children thought he was a pirate (I can’t really blame them). “I actually signed a couple of autographs in kids’ books because they thought I was a pirate. And I actually signed them.” (Sports Illustrated)

–Penguins forward Ryan Reaves didn’t believe the rumblings about him being traded on Friday night. His response was classic:

These 2017 NHL Draft picks lacked hype … but not swagger

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The interview process for draft prospects must be a real beating. Then again, it’s also an opportunity for hopefuls to push back.

In the case of two smaller prospects, it meant providing some swagger in their answers, possibly impressing their new teams. If nothing else, Kailer Yamamoto and Michael DiPietro generated some refreshingly confident quotes.

One would assume that the Edmonton Oilers picked Yamamoto with the 22nd choice for more than just a great answer alone … but still.

Nice, right?

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek related a similar story about DiPietro, who the Vancouver Canucks nabbed with the 64th pick.

Funny story: When one team at the NHL told him “We don’t think you can play in the NHL with our team, you’re too small” at the combine, he fired back with “well, I guess you have a problem with winning, then.” How do you not like that?

If nothing else, those two aren’t shy.

As a bonus story, check out the bumpy path Will Reilly – aka the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2017 NHL Draft – took to being chosen last overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, via Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy. From the sound of things, there are worse feelings than going 217th.

The 2017 NHL Draft may have been “pumped down” from a hype perspective, yet it sounds like many of these prospects at least bring some moxie to the table.