When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost Game 2 and Game 4 in round one against the New York Islanders, there was no doubt the ‘Steel City’ was feeling a little uneasy.
Losing games is one thing – but losing them in the same fashion they did against the Philadelphia Flyers last year, is another.
Surrendering 14 goals in the three contests following their dominating 5-0 Game 1 victory, head coach Dan Bylsma knew he had to start making changes.
And so, changes he made.
It started with the benching of one-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury for veteran Tomas Vokoun.
It was probably Bylsma’s boldest move (and its worked out well so far,) but it’s the timeliness of his line adjustments that have demonstrated how well he can orchestrate the fully-loaded Pens.
Replacing Jussi Jokinen and Tanner Glass with Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale for Game 5 in round one, Bylsma sought to add a little bit more speed that would match-up with the Isles fast skaters.
Well it turned out to be the right call – because Kennedy went on to score the game-winner for that contest and both him and Vitale ended up drawing one assist in the Game 6 clincher.
The whole depth aspect is only beneficial to an organization if you know how to utilize it – and Bylsma picks the right horses to run with at the right time.
Letting both forwards have the opportunity to continue to play, Bylsma would sit Vitale and keep Kennedy in the lineup for Game 3 against Ottawa the following round.
Citing Vitale for being weaker in the face-off circle in round two than he was in round one, Bylsma felt a change was necessary in order to adjust to the Senators game-plan.
After Glass got a stab at Game 3, Jokinen was called upon once again to center the fourth line in Game 4.
Jokinen – who’s notorious for winning face-offs – was put back on the second power play unit, adding a more balanced attack for Pittsburgh.
So not only does Bylsma make smart decisions, but he bases them off of knowing each individual’s strengths – which distinguishes a great coach from a good one.
He’s somehow finding ways to give each one of his players a chance – but more importantly he making them feel involved.
If the players you have on your team stay positive – because they know they’ll eventually get an opportunity to contribute – their performances will show why keeping the right mindset is right approach.
Watching the way the team performs on the sideline adds motivation and determination more than anything.
And when a player on the Pens sits out, Bylsma knows that when that player gets his chance he’s going to skate like it’s his last.
As we’ve seen in the past, a hockey team (in the playoffs) depends a lot on how well their role players perform. And while Pittsburgh has all the talent in the world, you can only go as far as the players you skate with.
We don’t know what the starting lineup will be on Saturday – nor will we find out until game-time – but we do know that whomever Bylsma decides to roll with, they’re going to give the Pens their best chance to win.
Pens versus Boston is Saturday at 8 p.m.