A little fun weekly piece we’ll try out today, because why not:
Dan Bylsma and staff
It’s often been said that coach Dan Bylsma’s finest stretch came back in the spring of 2011, when he oversaw a Penguins team down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to serious injuries and help them into the playoffs, and make it to a Game 7 (against an opponent who’d go all the way to G7 of the Eastern Conference Finals) before they ran out of gas. Bylsma won the Jack Adams that season as league’s top coach, and the entire staff deserves kudos for the work they’re getting out of a young defense corps that’s down their top four defensemen. From the goalie coach, Mike Bales, who helped Marc-Andre Fleury, to Jacques Martin and his fresh input to old standbys in Tony Granato and Todd Reirden who have helped the Pens to strong special teams units. They’ve all done well.
Bylsma, by the way is 7 career wins short of being the all-time winning-est Penguins coach, and he’s only coached 353 games. Incidentally, Bylsma’s full-season point totals go: 101, 106, 108 and last year’s 72 translates to 123 in a full season. This year (49 points in 35 games) they’re on pace for 115 points. That’s incredible and the ticks keep trending up from year to year as well.
The Olli Maatta / Matt Niskanen pairing
Maatta is 19 years old and now by default is playing 23+ minutes a night on a makeshift top pairing and catching the toughest of assignments. In the past two games he’s done very well to shut down Detroit and Toronto’s best forwards. His defensive posturing, positioning, "stick-on-puck", composure, skating and in-zone passing belies the fact that this is his first NHL season. Niskanen is the lone veteran on the current Pittsburgh defense and is being leaned on even heavier for more shifts and as a vital cog on PP and PK units. It’s hard to imagine where the Pens would be without Maatta and Niskanen right now, the only two defensemen to play in each of the first 35 games of the season.
A productive Joe Vitale
Joe Vitale has 5 points in the past 8 games. He has 9 assists in 33 games this year, well on his way to setting career highs in assists and points. His offensive zone passing and creativity has been a revelation and a nice offensive boost of secondary scoring. It’s done enough to give him a deserved spot on the wing alongside Brandon Sutter.
Strong at home
The Pens haven’t trailed at Consol in 257:19 and have only give up 5 goals in the past 265 minutes played on their home ice (hat-tip to Jason Seidling of the Pens for that sweet stat). So it shouldn’t be any surprise the team has won 8 straight home games, sending the fans home happy.
Kobasew scored goals in the first two games of the season and then….nothing. 16 games of no points. It’s been interrupted by injury and that can’t be the easiest thing, but Kobasew has remained on the 4th line while younger players have gotten more roles. Last night, Kobasew had less ice-time than every player except Jayson Megna (who left the game with an injury). That doesn’t bode well for Kobasew, whose stint as a Penguin might have an approaching expiration date once the forwards return to health.
The damn injury bug.
Tomas Vokoun, Rob Scuderi, Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Evgeni Malkin, Tanner Glass, Beau Bennett, Andrew Ebbett…we get it already THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS. But, maybe it’s better now than in the spring, right? Right? Right?