Google "Dan Bylsma fired" and you get some entertaining results. Lots of articles from April 2012, when the Penguins were fresh off that disastrous playoff showing against the Flyers. Some horrifically bad Bleacher Report "piece" from October 2010, which somehow the "correspondent" got 1,000 people to read. And if you dig deep, you can unearth this little gem from November 2010, wherein a brave and resolute blogger, so much younger then, made his case for everyone to just relax and stop talking about firing Dan Bylsma. As we said at the time, this is just the way things go in the NHL. It's the one league where emotion can trump everything when it comes to hiring and firing coaches. The more it feels like somebody should be canned, the more likely it is he will be canned.
Nothing is as bad as it seems after a loss like that. This is the same team that smoked the Rangers a few games back. But as Finesse wrote earlier on Wednesday, it's pretty bad. So is the easy answer the right one? Do we blame the coach? Read on for answers, both simple and complex...
First, if you're Bylsma, the first thing you do is shave the goatee. Could this be any more obvious? This is central to the culture right? Facial hair is crucial. You keep it when you win, you shave it when you lose. Duh.
But it's an apparent refusal to acknowledge the obvious that makes me think now, for the very first time, Bylsma's job is in real danger. To wit:
- He's banging his head against the wall with the power play. Bylsma spent 10 months analyzing the team's deficiencies, and this is what he came up with? Granted, James Neal on the point looked like a great idea for about 7 periods before everyone seemed to figure out how to neutralize it. What was Dan Bylsma's Plan B on Tuesday? He put Malkin on the point, to no avail. If there is one thing we know for sure, it's that Geno doesn't want to be on the point and Geno is not at his best on the point. If you as a coach can't figure out how to put your most dangerous power play weapon in the best position to succeed, what are you doing exactly? The fact is, the Penguins don't have 2 minute power plays. They have 1 minute, 15 second power plays where Geno and Sid try to force the puck either to each other or across the ice through someone's legs. Then Tyler Kennedy comes over the boards and stickhandles for 45 seconds. Bylsma seems strangely OK with this. I would split up Sid and Geno immediately.
- He's quick to change up line combinations, except when they involve Eric Tangradi. Can anyone explain why it took Bylsma 6 games to give Dustin Jeffrey a shot on the second line? Too much of a history of scoring goals in the NHL? Too savvy? Too unintimidated by playing with good players? Eric Tangradi not ineffective enough? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions?
- The "system" does not seem to be working. At all. Bylsma's system revolves around mobile defenseman who quickly collect the puck in the defensive zone and get the play moving rapidly north/south in the other direction. The Penguins have 1 goal in the last 6 periods. When a coach's "system" breaks down like this, there are three, and only three, possible explanations: 1) other teams have figured out how to neutralize the system; 2) you don't have the right personnel for the system; or 3) the players are no longer buying into the system. It doesn't really matter which of these three explanations - or what combination thereof - applies here. The Penguins look stale, stationary, and scared. The obvious move is to tweak the system.
Maybe the Pens wake up and roll the Rangers and Devils this week. Maybe everything is different by Sunday. But whatever happens, make no mistake, this is the most important week of Dan Bylsma's coaching career.