73968_red_wings__penguins_hockey

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.

WATCH LIVE: Arizona Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 07:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates with the puck against the Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period at Jobing.com Arena on February 7, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Winners of seven of their past eight, the Chicago Blackhawks are back home on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Coyotes.

The Blackhawks have been on a roll lately, especially offensively, scoring 34 goals in their past eight games. They have scored at least four goals in seven of those games. Captain Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of the work offensively lately and is having a huge second half after a disappointing start to the season offensively.

On Thursday they host a Coyotes team that has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, putting together an 8-4-1 record since Jan. 20.

Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all off the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

Click here for the Live Stream

Preview: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes

Penguins’ Rutherford would prefer to keep Fleury this season

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a pad save on a shot from the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

For the better part of the past year it has always been a matter of when, and not if, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to part ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Matt Murray has taken over as the starter, and given his age, salary, and the fact he has simply outplayed Fleury since the end of the 2015-16 season he is going to continue to be the starter for the long-term.

But through months of speculation and rumors Fleury has remained with the Penguins. With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the situation on Thursday and said that it continues to be his preference to keep Fleury with the team through the rest of the season.

“I’m going to say what I’ve said all along. I’d prefer to keep him,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com “We play a lot of games in March. You don’t know when players are going to get hurt. He’s handled the situation very well. I’m going to have some communication with him in between now and the [deadline] and see exactly where he sits and how he feels. That will play a part in the final decision. But I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself because he very well could be a part of our team going down the stretch.”

That all very well could be true.

Fleury is a great safety net to have on the roster in case something happens to Murray (Murray has been injured on more than one occasion in the early part of his career), but he still carries a significant salary cap hit and the Penguins, pressed right up against the cap, would probably still like to make another addition or two before the deadline.

Even though it is almost certainly not on the Penguins’ radar at the moment, there is also the expansion draft issue over the summer.

Trading him sooner, rather than later, would clear out a lot of potential headaches and give them some short-term flexibility when it comes to adding to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

But even if the Penguins would want to go in that direction right now the biggest obstacle in actually completing a trade before the deadline is just how soft the market is for starting goaltenders. Looking at the teams that are in a position to be buyers there are really only one or two that would be in the market for a starting goalie — Calgary, and maybe St. Louis. Pretty much every other playoff team — or potential playoff team — is set in net.

It takes two teams to make a trade, and right now there might not be another out there that makes sense as a partner.

Ducks prospect Max Jones suspended 10 games in OHL for cross-check

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones celebrates with the Anaheim Ducks after being selected 24th overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
7 Comments

Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Jones is in some trouble in the OHL once again.

The league announced on Thursday that Jones, selected by the Ducks in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 2016 NHL draft, has been suspended 10 games for a cross-checking incident that occurred during Friday’s London Knights-Owen Sound Attack game.

He has already served two games of the suspension.

The incident happened in the third period of the the Knights’ 6-1 loss just after the Attack’s Jonah Gadjovich scored his third goal of the game. Jones ended up getting ejected from the game along with a five-minute major for cross-checking.

Here is a look at the incident.

This is not the first time Jones has been hammered with a double-digit game suspension in the OHL. He was also suspended for 12 games during last year’s playoffs for a nasty head shot on Justin Brack in a game that was also against Owen Sound.

Jones is a talented player that has averaged close to a point per game the past two years in the OHL (including 32 points in 29 games this season) but he has also shown a tendency to cross the line when it comes to physical play. Along with these two suspensions that have totaled 22 games the past two years he has also been assessed 166 penalty minutes. During the 2014-15 season when he was a member of the U.S. National Under-17 team he picked up 112 penalty minutes … in 21 games.

Pre-game reading: Clayton Keller tops a good list to top

1 Comment

— Up top, Bob McKenzie explains how the bye week is going to work next season, and why it’s going to be changed.

— Who are the best prospects who have yet to graduate to their NHL teams? TSN’s Craig Button has put together his list of the top 50, and it’s headed by Coyotes draft pick Clayton Keller. Writes Button: “Keller’s sleight of hand is matched by a creative mind that allows him to be dangerous every time he’s on the ice. The Arizona Coyotes prospect is an electrifying player who is highly productive.” (TSN)

— In which Mike Babcock admits he’s “said lots of dumb things and handled situations fairly poorly at times.” The Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach also shares his philosophy on the job, and talks about how to handle the pressures of being a bench boss. (Sportsnet)

— What is the market for Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar? At first glance, it doesn’t seem all that strong. The 22-year-old former 17th overall draft pick has no goals and just one assist in 32 games for the Senators this season. Hence, all the trade rumors. But as noted by TSN’s Travis Yost, Nino Niederreiter went through a similar year with the Islanders, and he’s turned out pretty well since being dealt to the Wild. (TSN)

— Why the Vancouver Canucks need to be sellers at the trade deadline, by Postmedia’s Jason Botchford, who writes: “For another season, the retool has been exposed a fraud, and there aren’t any options left this week. The Canucks have to rebuild their player base, and the next step in doing it has to be trading veterans for assets — preferably draft picks.” (National Post)

— What’s it like to be a general manager on deadline day? Here’s how Flames GM Brad Treliving puts it: “The trade deadline is like five lanes merging into one. … With each hour that goes by there’s an excitement level building, but you have to block all of that out and be methodical in your approach and then have a sense of when it’s the right time to strike.”  (Yahoo Sports)

Enjoy the games!