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Pressure mounts on Dan Bylsma

From local columnists to fans on twitter, Dan Bylsma's critics are taking aim at every little decision made. Why some of these arguments make sense, but asking why the Pens even acquire Jarome Iginla isn't one of them.

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For a team with so much in the way of expectations, it was only a matter of time for the second guessing and “Monday morning quarterbacking” to reach a fever pitch. I just didn’t take it that it’d be before the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated from contention. Let alone in the second round, a series they’re currently winning 2 games to 1.

Or about a player with above a point per game average in the playoffs so far.

But that’s where we are with Dejan Kovacevic’s article, entitled “Why did Pens even get Iginla?“ in today’s Trib. This isn’t against Kovacevic personally, who’s probably the brightest and most responsive (and responsible) commentator of the Penguins these days. He’s a terrific writer and has usually has wonderful insight and perspective. To me, he misses the mark here, but it’s more about the temperature in the water about how just about everyone, it seems, feels about head coach Dan Bylsma.

Clearly, I don’t stand by all of Bylsma’s decisions- especially when it comes to playing Deryk Engelland over Simon Despres. Or the decision to dress Tanner Glass (and play him on the penalty kill) when it’s clear he’s not been a very effective option. I’ve never been one to be in lock-step with the coach every step of the way, but common sense doesn’t add up here to me.

That said, the complaint is about misuse of Jarome Iginla? The guy with 10 points in 9 games? Below are a couple of rational responses to Kovacevic's biggest charges:

When the Penguins went on the power play four times in regulation, Iginla alternated with James Neal on the first unit and was out of position. Rather than being on the left point, where he'd feasted on goaltenders for a decade-plus in Calgary, he stood idly at the left lip of the crease waiting for passes that never came.

It’s fair to take umbrance that Iginla was on the left point for “a decade-plus in Calgary”, I’ve sent a few tweets and emails to get some reports from more knowledgeable Flames viewers, but as Ryan Lambert (@twolinepass) tweeted “i wouldnt say ‘regularly’” when I asked if Iginla was used on the point on power plays.

The point being- hockey is a fluid sport. Sometimes Iginla uses his shot from the left faceoff circle, sometimes he plays closer to the net looking for gritty goals or rebounds. And that makes sense with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby usually operating from the wall, or point, or somewhere far from the net, spacing-wise you’d expect other players to be positioned closer to the net. Power play personnel has long been an issue, the Pens have too many skill players for the tradition first unit.

When the Penguins went on the power play in the second overtime with a chance to bury the Senators in this Stanley Cup playoff series, Iginla sat on the bench.

Iginla did sit that power play, but he also played the shift before the penalty and had 2 shifts in that short 2nd OT when the penalty was called. Chris Kunitz and James Neal were more fresh and with that perspective, just as good of options to play in that situation.

Now, tell me again: Why did Ray Shero get this guy?

I’m sure glad the Penguins got Iginla instead of Boston, and if the two teams meet up next round that feeling will be multiplied one hundred times over. I’m not going to go “Fire Joe Morgan” and pick apart Dejan’s every sentence, because he doesn’t deserve that. It’s a well-constructed and reasonable argument, just one I wouldn’t make to question why the Pens acquired Iginla just because he hasn’t seamlessly slid into the Pens.

The feeling that Dan Bylsma can’t win, unless the team wins is the pervasive growing sentiment that I’m picking up on here. The pressure and expectations he’s under is incredible. I tweeted that out and some of the replies were very interesting.

That to me, really stood out to the level of scrutiny that Bylsma is under. Personally, I can’t even recall the exact situation, but is it worthy of a bone to pick? I guess so, if admittedly you are a critic of Bylsma.

Some of that is reasonable, though if you play Engelland, I can’t see how or why he isn’t on the third pair (same with Douglas Murray). Also I really believe there’s more to the Marty Reasoner knee-to-knee hit to explain the absence of Jussi Jokinen than the team has let on- it just doesn’t make sense to scratch Jokinen after as well as he’s played for the Penguins in many different roles and lines.

It’s hard to disagree with that. If they don’t win the Cup, given the trades that Ray Shero has made, and given all the pending free agents that just can’t fit under the salary cap, it’ll be a failure. And failures are harshly judged, as they should be.

This point, to me, is the best criticism to render of Bylsma right now. Why didn’t he use his timeout right before the power play, if only to give himself a minute to consider who he wanted to play on that fateful power play? Or to instruct his guys “OK, let’s push on like usual” or “we’re gonna play more defensive guys and try to grind it out and hang on”. Also, when Sidney Crosby went to the bench in the middle of the play, while all the Ottawa players were changing and Kris Letang safely had the puck behind the Pens net, why didn’t Bylsma implore Kunitz and Malkin to change as well? Both of those forwards stayed on the ice and both were integral parts in the sequence that led to the goal against. If Bylsma could have been more forceful in making the players changed, and he got, say Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke or Craig Adams out there, it’s a lot easier to imagine the Pens hold on for that 1-0 win.

There’s always room to criticize and point out mistakes made, but the scale and amount that is already being done just makes me wonder what is to come.

If there’s one thing Bylsma (and Pens fans everywhere) can be thankful for, it’s that at least Tomas Vokoun has played so well (or maybe Marc-Andre Fleury has played so poorly) that there can be no goaltending controversy at this point. That would just about send this fever pitch into an unbearable over-drive from the Monday morning quarterbacks and columnists and fans alike.