Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma talks with referee Tim Peel during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. Bylsma has learned one important lesson about the chase for the Stanley Cup."You can do everything right and that doesn't mean you're going to win," the Pittsburgh Penguins coach said Wednesday. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma talks with referee Tim Peel during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. Bylsma has learned one important lesson about the chase for the Stanley Cup."You can do everything right and that doesn't mean you're going to win," the Pittsburgh Penguins coach said Wednesday. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

ROY MacGREGOR

Golf can wait in Pittsburgh Add to ...

One thing's for certain, neither the franchise nor the coach lack for confidence.

Up at Pen Station, the official store of the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the featured logo merchandise is a Penguins "hockey stick" golf putter - with neither irons nor irony included.

There may be cherry blossom petals spread throughout the streets, but no one involved in hockey here is thinking tee times quite yet.

As for coach Dan Bylsma, he was even offering Ottawa a "game plan" the day before his Penguins and the Senators meet here tonight in Game 1 of the opening round.

There is, however, not much other talk about opening rounds or future prayers in hockey. Street buses flash "Let's Go Pens" but you have to get to page eight of the sports section before they're even talking hockey - a far cry from Ottawa where the Senators' chances are more discussed than the chances of Stephen Harper hugging Helena Guergis.

Of course, this is bound to happen when so much space is devoted to District Attorney Fred Bright deciding he cannot proceed with rape charges against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger because the young college student involved and her family have now decided they would prefer not to go ahead with a trial.

DA Bright had to be content with a stern lecture in which he told "Big Ben" to "Grow up! You're supposed to stand for something."

Rumours swirl that the Steelers will either trade their quarterback or else have this latest victim of his own hormones receive therapy for the dreaded sex addiction that is destroying American values.

Once the Tribune-Review finds its way to the far-less-compelling hockey news, it awards the Penguins an overall "C" in its year-end report, a shock for graders from Ottawa who would be quick to grant Sidney Crosby and class an "A-plus-plus" if such a mark were available.

But one of the rules of thumb in sports coverage has always been the closer you are to a team the less you believe in it, so this comes as no surprise. Those of us who cover the Senators know the holes there, as well.

There is concern that the Penguins are too "top heavy, and top-heavy teams generally don't win." Another report marks the "inconsistencies" found over this past up-and-down season but does not compare them to Senators, who could be found so far up at times it seemed they were skating in the ionosphere, so far down the ice was melting in whatever hell they were trapped in.

Bylsma went on radio station "The X" yesterday afternoon and offered a remarkably candid look at what he would do if he were Cory Clouston, coach of the Ottawa Senators, and had to come up with a "game plan" that would be appropriate for taking on his Penguins.

As Bylsma last year was an untried rookie NHL coach who went all the way, and Clouston this year is entering his first playoffs, it seemed a generous offer indeed.

Bylsma, of course, would continue to have Ottawa defencemen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov on the ice whenever Crosby steps over the boards. They are the ones held most responsible for Crosby's dreary two-goals-in-17-games output against the Senators.

"It's tough to get away from," Bylsma conceded.

The real key, however, "if I was to put a game plan together for the Ottawa Senators - it would be to frustrate our skill players." In fact, he might as well have said one skill 'player" - Evgeni Malkin, last year's winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. Malkin has a habit of taking dumb penalties at the worst possible moments, and seems, in fact, to be getting worse rather than better.

"That's part of their plan," said Bylsma, "and we have to be ready for it.

"He knows it's going to happen."

But just as the Penguins need to concern themselves with not giving Ottawa power-play opportunities, so, too, should Ottawa fear giving Crosby, Malkin and company power-play chances. In the last few weeks, Bylsma, said, his team's power play has soared as often-injured power-play co-ordinator Sergei Gonchar returned to form.

And then, as if he had not given Clouston enough of a Welcome Wagon, Bylsma happily laid out his own game plan for the Senators to mull on yesterday evening as they arrived in town and began readying for what had better be a better series than the last time these two teams met: a 2008 four-game sweep by the Penguins.

Bylsma, in fact, wants a long series - actually likes seven games, he says.

The reason, he argued, is that the one measure virtually as important as whatever numbers appear on the scoreboard is "collateral damage."

"Grind them down," is the Pittsburgh plan for Ottawa and whoever dares try next.

"We're not going to be worried about winning Game 1," he said.

"At the end of the series, there will be no doubt in their minds - and no doubt in our mind - that we're going to win."

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular