Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Coaches....

Thanks to my dad for writing this one...he's usually a Bucco blogger over at The Green Weenie, but I think this recent run of success inspired him to take on something a lil' different...Check it out, and make sure you check out his blog for all of your Pirate needs as he updates alot and sure knows his baseball...

Hey, Dan Bylsma has become the greatest thing in Pittsburgh since IC Lite. And why not? His team has rolled up the points, leaving the dark days of futility under Michel Therrien in the Zamboni’s rear view mirror. So what’s the Magic Dan done to turn the Pens back into Lord Stanley‘s darlings?

Well, two things. First, he set the dogs loose, something the defense-minded Therrien just couldn’t find in his heart to do. His D sets up at the blue line, his forecheckers go after the puck relentlessly, and his guys have the freedom to pinch and bolt up ice when the situation is ripe. Caution has been replaced by kamikazes.

And secondly, he put together his lines, and pretty much sticks to them. Consistency means something in sports, and knowing your linemates is a big thing in hockey circles. Everyone remembers Therrien’s mix-and-match lines, and none too fondly. Jus ask Sidney Crosby.

Sheer genius, right? Well, maybe. But before we’d compare Bylsma to Einstein, we’d take a good look at the team Therrien had and the team Bylsma now coaches. They were both called the Penguins, but the similarity ends there.

Why did Therrien hunker down with the dreaded and snooze-inducing trap? He didn’t start the season in round-the-wagons around Fleury mode, but as the defeats piled up, it became obvious that he didn’t have the horses for pond hockey; he’d have to win 3-2 games, not 5-4 matches, and tightened up accordingly.

Ditto with the lines. He didn’t have enough wings to cover one line, much less three, to mesh skills with world-class centers Sid the Kid, Gino, and Jordan Staal, who were desperately looking for some help.

Therrien knew that; so did Ray Shero. But Shero opted to hang Therrien out to dry, and it could well be that the gruff Frenchman had lost the locker room and management‘s confidence. But the club Shero gave him wasn’t strong; at best it was a bubble team, especially with Sarge and Whitney riding bikes instead of clearing pucks and the AHL winger-of-the-month roster philosophy.

In comes Bylsma, a safe bet for Shero. He’s a scapegoat if the team continued to sputter, a placeholder if he did just OK, and a cheap replacement if he kicked some butt. And the squad he got from Shero was a far cry from the minor-league try-out camp that Therrien was trying to piece together.

First, Sarge came back and Ryan Whitney left, addition by subtraction if there ever was an example. Neither is a physical presence, but Gonchar eats up minutes, head-mans the puck, and collects points like Whitney collects minus ratings. And hey, suddenly the power play finds the net, as an added bonus.

With Sergei back, he had the luxury of a six-man defense again, and a top pairing with Gonchar and Brooks Orpik. It also gave Kris Letang a chance to play. So no Bylsma brainstorming there; Sarge gave him a gimme.

As for the lines? We’d like to see what Bylsma would do without Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to plug in around the Kid. Pasquel Dupuis went from the first line to checking and penalty killing. Miroslav Satan went to Wilkes-Barre. Suddenly, there were three lines to roll out. Crosby looks rejuvenated; Staal looks like a number one pick, and Malkin looks like an MVP and Ross Trophy winner.

Hey, don’t misread us; we like what Bylsma is doing. The locker room is filled with positive energy again. Pittsburgh is the home of go-go hockey, and he’s got everyone buying in. He’s brought some consistency to the lineup.

But remember that Ray Shero took Ryan Malone and Colby Armstrong away from Therrien and didn’t replace them until Bylsma arrived. Two of the team’s top three defensemen were missing when Therrien was around; Bylsma got Gonchar and a seasoned Latang to man the backline.

Letang and Staal are the two biggest winners in Bylsma’s upbeat game planning; they were squelched by Therrien‘s tactics. The final piece fell in when The Flower entered one of his otherworldly zones once more, stopping every biscuit tossed at him.

It’s a tale of two teams, not two coaches. And the results show.

Until lata....