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Penguins’ Bylsma stayed calm under fire

SUNRISE, Fla. — It would be easy to credit coach Dan Bylsma with the Penguins’ recent turnaround: He has steered the team to a 5-0-1 run since a home loss two weeks ago described by this media outlet as “rock bottom.”

Not only is it easy, but it is also well-deserved. He is as responsible for this change in fortune — the Penguins had lost five of seven in regulation — as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (.920 save percentage), centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (eight goals, 22 points combined) and the penalty-kill units (24 for 25).

Look not at any adjustments Bylsma made strategically, but rather at the one he resisted making after the Penguins blew a two-goal lead in the third period of a home loss to Boston, a loss that featured five unanswered goals by the Bruins over the last 20 minutes.

Calm, cool and, surprisingly, with an occasional grin, Bylsma fielded questions from a ready-to-pounce media that night at Consol Energy Center. His critics weren’t given any ammunition in the form of harsh words for them or Penguins players, and Bylsma carefully avoided any statements from which negativity could be extracted.

Privately, he was fuming over the Penguins’ continued penchant for poor team defense, an inept power play and selfish, careless turnovers by players.

He never fumed publicly, though, and there is no indication he raised his voice behind closed doors.

Bylsma stayed true to his vow never to go negative. By persistently sticking to that vow during the rough start to this month, he showed growth as a coach, gained a greater measure of respect from players, and reaffirmed the belief that general manager Ray Shero has in him.

That stay-true-to-yourself quality is one Shero likes best about Bylsma, whose job was never in danger and won’t be this season.

It is also a quality that meshes well with Crosby, who, like Bylsma, is fiercely competitive but stays on message — 99 percent of the time, it moves discussion forward — when everybody not employed by the Penguins is screaming for somebody to scream about something.

Shero once said the easiest thing to do in tough times is to get negative, to make some noise.

His coach wasn’t interested in that easy option two weeks ago, and that is a big reason why the Penguins are better today.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Penguins began this week seventh in the NHL with 3.02 goals per game. They also were fourth with 256 missed shots (and on pace for approximately 1,000). The correlation between average goals and missed shots for the last five Stanley Cup champions:

2010 BLACKHAWKS

GPG: 3.20 (third)

MS: 982 (15th)

2009 PENGUINS

GPG: 3.15 (sixth)

MS: 923 (15th)

2008 RED WINGS

GPG: 3.07 (third)

MS: 1,035 (first)

2007 DUCKS

GPG: 3.10 (ninth)

2006 HURRICANES

GPG: 3.49 (third)

MS: 1,071 (fifth)

Source: NHL.com

EYE ON THE ENEMY

An NHL Insider offers insight on the Penguins’ opponents for the week ahead:

Sabres (Away, 7 p.m. today) : “A well rounded group overall, they have the ability to score in bunches if given enough opportunity.”

Senators (Home, 1 p.m. Friday) : “This group has played up and down all season, but it has a high-powered top-six group of forwards.”

Flames (Home, 1 p.m. Saturday) : “They’ve had some bad breaks giving up leads late, but their work ethic shows up every night.”

Rangers (Away, 7 p.m. Monday) : “New York has had a better season from its forwards offensively, which has helped ease the pressure on its go-to goalie Henrik Lundqvist.”

THE WORD

Penguins share their thoughts on Thanksgiving:

Brent Johnson : “My mom’s turkey; she was the best Thanksgiving cooker ever. She did the turkey and ham. I’m not a big fan of cranberry sauce, but she did that, too, and mashed potatoes. Usually, we’ve never had a game on Thanksgiving, so it’s been in nice to just sit back and watch football. It’s a good lay-around day with good food, family, and trips to la-la land.

Paul Martin : “It’s really self-explanatory: You give thanks for what you have. Family, friends, food on your table, your life and whatever you’ve been blessed with. All of us in here are very fortunate to do what we do for a living, and we’re very thankful for that. Thanksgiving is a time to remember where you are and who helped get you there along the way.”

Mike Rupp : “We need to take a moment and step outside the box and be thankful for the situations we’re in. I’m thankful just to be able to be in a country where you can make decisions; if you want to go to the doctor or don’t, if you want to eat breakfast or not. In the past year, I’ve come across people who don’t get to make those decisions, so this year, I’m most thankful for the opportunity I have to make them.”

ONES TO WATCH

Players to keep an eye on this week:

Peter Regin, Senators center : His is an offensive game with good skill and puck-moving abilities. He’s looking to continue to build off his strong playoff performance from last postseason.

Rene Bourque, Flames right wing : He has good size and a great shot. He’ll hang around the net, but he has become a dangerous goal scorer in any situation.

Michael Del Zotto, Rangers defenseman : This is one smooth-skating defenseman. He is a good puck mover and gets very involved in the offense and on the power play.


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