Pittsburgh keeps winning despite several injuries.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) and Tampa Bay Lightning center Dana Tyrell (42) battle for a loose puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) ORG XMIT: MIN2013122019011072
Dan Bylsma swears he doesn’t have any secret, magic potion, that “we don’t sound fire alarms” and change everything when Pittsburgh Penguin players drop and drop and drop.
Yet, how does he explain the fact that his team is able to annually survive when top players, from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin, go down with injuries?
How does he explain the fact that this season the Penguins have been routinely playing without eight, nine, even 10 regulars, including top-4 defensemen Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi and now suspended defenseman Deryk Engelland and yet racking up victories?
“I don’t have a good answer for you,” said Bylsma, who took over as Penguins coach in Feb. 2009 and led them to a Stanley Cup four months later.
This season, it’s helped that Crosby has stayed concussion-free. He leads the league in scoring with 54 points, and for a team that’s won 11 times in 12 games and seven in a row, Crosby has points in 10 in a row.
It helps that every night, different players are stepping up, from Chris Kunitz to Brandon Sutter to Pascal Dupuis.
But the Penguins overwhelmed the Wild on Thursday using a blue line that included names like Matt Niskanen, top-pick youngsters Olli Maatta, 19, and Simon Despres, 22, Brian Dumoulin, 22, who came over in the Jordan Staal-for-Sutter package from Carolina, Robert Bortuzzo, 24, and Ulf Samuelsson’s kid, Philip, 22.
Niskanen was the only top-6 defenseman standing from training camp, and all the Virginia, Minn., native has done is lead the NHL in plus-minus (plus-20).
Tomas Vokoun is lost to a blood disorder? No problem. Call up Jeff Zatkoff, 26, in goal and watch him win six in a row.
There are teams around the NHL that rave about its depth, including the Wild, yet fall apart when struck by one or two injuries. A few years ago, the Wild collapsed when Mikko Koivu got hurt. This season, it took one Mikael Granlund injury to dry up the already-deficient scoring.
Imagine what would happen to Minnesota if it lost five defensemen.
The Penguins, who are running away with the awful Metropolitan Division, have true depth.
Most teams deploy the same system between the NHL and their top farm team in the American Hockey League. But there’s a difference between playing the same way and real integration.
Bylsma and Wilkes-Barre coach John Hynes use the same drills and same verbiage on the ice and in the locker room.
“To have a player step into our practice and go to the front of the line and do the drill and do the drill with detail and habit we expect, that’s a good sign,” Bylsma said. The Penguins use the simple concept of draft and development (Tom Fitzgerald oversees the development) and seem to do it better than most.
Players come up from Wilkes-Barre and don’t have to fret because they’re so comfortable with their role and responsibilities.
“I almost feel cheated. I don’t even get to coach them when they come up,” Bylsma said. “I don’t even get to say anything to them.”
Leipold: League is healthy
Under the NHL’s new revenue-sharing system, the Wild actually gets “a little money,” owner Craig Leipold said. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement, the top 10 revenue-generating teams distributed to the bottom 10. Now, the top 10 give to the bottom 20.
“This league is really healthy,” Leipold said. “A lot of the new revenue that’s coming into the league is leaguewide revenue that all 30 teams at least share in. In past years, the revenue in the league was going up, but it was because the top five or six teams’ local revenue generated such a large degree that it pushed the revenue of the league up. That didn’t help the lower teams.”
No rest for the weary
Dan Bylsma, who doubles as the U.S. Olympic coach, was asked if Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who leads the NHL in ice time, may feel refreshed at the Olympics because he won’t have to play 30 or 32 minutes a game.
“Who says that’s the case?” Bylsma said, smiling. “He’s a pretty good player.”
Just in case
The Wild’s Matt Cooke is an infamous prankster, so during his return to Pittsburgh on Thursday, Bylsma joked, “We did change the locks [of the locker room] on him.”
|NY Mets||4||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Boston||4||Top 3rd Inning|
|Toronto||0||Top 3rd Inning|
|Oklahoma City||7:00 PM|
|Calgary||1||2nd Prd 17:30|
|St. Louis||1||2nd Prd 17:48|
|Toronto||0||1st Prd 6:31|
|Dallas||2||1st Prd 6:51|
|NY Islanders||7:00 PM|
|Holy Cross||27||2nd Half|
|Western Ky||41||2nd Half 18:03|
|Temple||36||1st Half 1:29|
|UAB||33||2nd Half 17:24|
|Boston Univ||34||2nd Half|
|American Univ||23||2nd Half|
|Wisconsin||48||2nd Half 16:27|
|Morehead State||43||2nd Half 18:07|
|USC Upstate||27||2nd Half|
|Fla Gulf Coast||25|
|Southern Ill||25||2nd Half|
|Texas State||17||1st Half 7:13|
|SC State||6:30 PM|
|Delaware State||6||1st Half 13:29|
|Middle Tennessee||14||1st Half 3:58|
|Texas-Arlington||30||1st Half 6:58|
|Norfolk State||6:30 PM|
|NC A&T||6:30 PM|
|Savannah State||7:00 PM|
|Southern Miss||7:00 PM|
|Georgia State||7:00 PM|
|Ark-Little Rock||7:15 PM|
|South Alabama||7:30 PM|
|Alabama State||7:30 PM|
|Alabama A&M||7:30 PM|
|Sam Houston St||7:30 PM|
|Central Arkansas||7:30 PM|
|Portland State||7:30 PM|
|Southern U||7:30 PM|
|Alcorn State||7:30 PM|
|Houston Baptist||7:30 PM|
|SE Louisiana||7:45 PM|
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|VA Commonwealth||8:00 PM|
|Miss Valley St||0|
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|North Texas||8:00 PM|
|Abilene Christian||8:00 PM|
|Eastern Wash||8:05 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton||9:00 PM|
|Long Beach State|
|UC Riverside||9:00 PM|
|(18) Texas A&M||57|
|East Tenn St||73|
|Georgia||60||2nd Half 2:52|
|Ark-Little Rock||60||2nd Half 4:10|
|Sam Houston St||49||2nd Half 7:32|
|SE Louisiana||58||2nd Half 7:28|
|Northwestern St||32||2nd Half 12:22|
|Stephen F Austin||30|
|Alabama A&M||39||2nd Half 10:00|
|Alabama State||43||2nd Half 10:00|
|Southern U||57||2nd Half 11:45|
|Alcorn State||41||2nd Half 8:30|
|Miss Valley St||0|
|Wofford||50||2nd Half 3:46|
|Abilene Christian||34||2nd Half|
|La Salle||29||2nd Half|
|TX-San Antonio||28||2nd Half|
|Valparaiso||27||2nd Half 17:36|
|Missouri State||26||2nd Half|
|Georgia Tech||7:00 PM|
|(15) North Carolina|
|Texas-El Paso||7:00 PM|
|Wichita State||7:00 PM|
|San Francisco||8:00 PM|
|Idaho State||8:00 PM|
|Weber State||8:00 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|Long Beach St||9:00 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara|
|UC Davis||9:00 PM|
|Northern Ariz||9:00 PM|
|Southern Utah||9:00 PM|
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