Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ANOTHER GREAT PITTSBURGH COACH GETS HIS JUST REWARD

ABOVE: Dan Bylsma gets into the spirit of the NHL Winter Classic.

What is it about the City of Pittsburgh? This town has been fortunate to have many of the best coaches in America in several sports over the past forty years. Today, another great young coach found out that he is receiving a three year contract extension. That man, Dan Bylsma is already the winningest coach, percentage-wise, in Penguins history.

By extending Bylsma's contract, he is already assured, excepting for some type of a Mike Haywood-style calamity, of being the longest tenured coach for the Flightless Birds. That, in itself, is amazing as hockey coaches get changed with the same type of frequency that people do spring cleaning. In fact, of all the major sports, hockey coaches seem to have the shortest leash of them all.


ABOVE: Ray Shero (right) shakes hands with someone he obviously looks up to.

But Ray Shero, surely the shrewdest g.m. in hockey, certainly knows something good when he sees it. Bylsma is a cerebral coach who communicates well with both his boss and his players. Witness the horrible blizzard of injuries that have plagued the Penguins during the last few months. Working together, Shero has brought in a cadre of players to replace the injured. These new Penguins came both by trades and call-ups from Wilkes Barre-Scranton's Baby Penguins. It has been amazing to witness how within relatively brief periods of time, each new component has come on to become another productive piece in the Pens lineup.

It's also exciting to think about how a James Neal or Alexi Kovalev will mesh with Sid or Gino if and when those superstars return. So instead of the players mailing-in the balance of the season, incredibly this team, largely through goal tending and defense has managed to keep scoring points, to the degree where they now trail first place Philadelphia by just two points.

People have talked about how, while the Penguins will make the playoffs, they probably won't survive a round or two. Last Saturday, in a game that resembled a playoff game if this writer ever saw one, the Penguins managed to win an extremely tough game, in overtime again, against the big,bad, Boston Bruins.

The Penguins were really taking it to the Bruins and would have won in regulation had it not been for a goal scored while the B's had their goalie pulled. Still, they managed to prevail, 3-2 in overtime. Last night they managed to throttle a very hot Buffalo team 3-1 at home.

These players have bought into Bylsma's system, lock, stock and barrel. As a result, with each passing game, they're gaining more and more chemistry with each other. There have been very few occasions where any team has had to fight through as many injuries as this year's edition of the Penguins. Maybe they took a lesson from Mike Tomlin's bunch this year. They had a lot of injuries too, but they overcame them and went on to make it as far as the SuperBowl. Tomlin is now regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the NFL. If Dan Bylsma can get the Pens to the Stanley Cup Finals using glue, masking tape and rubber bands, he too will then be regarded as one of the top coaches in the NHL. He will have also helped the Pens' bottom line immensely which can't be understated in importance as well.

Yes, the Penguins are very fortunate to have a man like Dan Bylsma. They're also extremely fortunate to have a judge of talent and coaching ability like Ray Shero too. He truly is the best general manager in the game.

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