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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.

Travis Green: ‘I think I’m ready’ to coach in the NHL

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Travis Green has never coached in the NHL, not even as an assistant.

But a lengthy career as a player, followed by success as a head coach in the WHL and AHL, has left him feeling prepared to take the next step.

“I think I’m ready,” Green told Postmedia yesterday. “Every job in the NHL is worth its weight in gold, and I would have 100 per cent interest at options with every team in the league. You hope all your qualities are enticing for one of them.”

After the Flames fired Bob Hartley yesterday, many are wondering if Green could be a candidate to take over in Calgary. Other head-coaching vacancies exist in Anaheim and Ottawa, and potentially Minnesota.

For the past three seasons, Green has been the head coach of the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Last year, the Comets made it all the way to the Calder Cup finals, an accomplishment that Green found particularly rewarding since “it wasn’t like we had an all-star team.”

While some GMs won’t risk hiring a coach without any NHL experience — they’d prefer a guy who’s been there before and knows what to expect — it’s worth noting that Jon Cooper didn’t have an NHL track record before he took over in Tampa Bay, and he’s done OK. Heck, Dave Hastol hadn’t even coached professionals before he landed the job in Philadelphia, and the Flyers seem pretty happy with him.

Green is under contract for one more season in Utica, but reportedly has an out-clause to pursue an NHL job.

Related: Will the Sens take a run at Kevin Dineen?

After Game 3 drubbing, Stars rule out Seguin (again) for Game 4

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Any thought Tyler Seguin flying into St. Louis after last night’s 6-1 blowout loss was wiped out on Wednesday morning, as Stars head coach ruled out both Seguin and fellow forward Patrick Eaves for Game 4.

The decision comes after Ruff played a bit coy prior to Game 3. While he said neither Seguin nor Eaves would travel with the Stars, he noted both had resumed skating back in Dallas, adding “they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Well, the airline schedule doesn’t much matter now.

Game 4 will be played at Scottrade tomorrow night, which means Stars fans clamoring for Seguin might need to look ahead to Game 5, and the potential implications at hand.

Should the Stars even up the series at two heading back to Dallas, Seguin could return for Game 5 and provide what would be a huge momentum swinger.

Should the Stars lose on Thursday and return home down 3-1, Seguin could be inserted into the lineup simply to stave off elimination.

Or, Seguin could not play at all.

Whatever the case, Dallas has a tall task at hand — and it goes well beyond surviving life without No. 91. The club has allowed 10 goals over the last two games, and seems to have an issue in goal, where neither Antti Niemi nor Kari Lehtonen has played especially well.

Andreychuk confident that Stamkos will re-sign in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Former Tampa Bay Lightning player Dave Andreychuk is now a member of the club’s senior management team, and he’s confident that the Bolts won’t lose Steven Stamkos to unrestricted free agency this summer.

“Steven is going to come back. He’s going to be fine,” Andreychuk told Hockey Central today, per Sportsnet.ca.

“I still believe that Steve Yzerman is trying whatever he can do to sign Steven Stamkos, and I believe it will happen.”

Andreychuk — whose official title is VP Corporate & Community Affairs — is not part of the Lightning’s hockey operations, but presumably he speaks with Yzerman, the general manager, from time to time.

Of course, the challenge for Yzerman goes well beyond re-signing the captain. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin.

All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next.

Stamkos, Hedman, and Bishop are pending UFAs, while the other five are pending RFAs.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks