Penguins notebook: Bylsma sees similar scenario from 2009
An underachieving but defensively sound Penguins team fires its coach during the season and promotes his replacement from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The new coach brings in a faster, more dynamic style of play and the team responds with a fantastic month of March.
That’s the script from 2009 when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien and led the Penguins to a 10-1-2 March on the way to a Stanley Cup championship.
That’s the script that is playing out this season, too, with Mike Sullivan replacing Mike Johnston midseason and guiding the Penguins to a 10-4 record in March heading into Tuesday night’s game with the Buffalo Sabres.
Don’t think Bylsma hasn’t noticed the similarities.
“I do. I do see a lot of similarities in how they’re playing and the way their team is playing,” Bylsma said. “Frankly, that’s a little bit scary. Should be scary for a lot of people.
“They’re playing with a ton of speed. They’re really testing teams with the length of which they play and the speed of which they play. Right now, you watch (Sidney Crosby) and (Kris Letang) play, pretty dominant performances they’re putting in on the ice.
“Kris Letang, the last few games, has just been a force on the ice with his speed, his puck control. You see that five-on-five. You see it on the power play as well. They’ve been a pretty dangerous team.”
The comparison between the 2009 and ’16 Penguins resonates down the hall in the home locker room at Consol Energy Center as well, with one caveat: The ending for this script hasn’t been written yet.
“I hope. I hope we’re talking about that a few months from now. That would be great,” Crosby said. “I think with the situation and the timing of everything and some young guys coming in and playing well at the right time and some of the trades, I think it’s kind of worked out very similar.
“But with that, if you look back to that year, we continued to get better and better. … That desperation level was there all the way through. We have to make sure we mimic that as best as we can.”
Four games into his return to the lineup after missing 42 games with a shoulder injury, Beau Bennett found himself in a prominent position Tuesday.
He was on the team’s top power-play unit alongside Crosby, Letang, Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz.
“We’re trying to find different looks that work,” Bennett said. “Our power play hasn’t been great since (Evgeni Malkin was injured March 11), so whoever’s going to slot in there and make the right plays … hopefully, I can do that for the first power play.”
Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino, who have found offensive chemistry at even strength in recent games, anchored the second unit with Trevor Daley, Derrick Pouliot and Chris Kunitz.
The Penguins are 4 for 29 on the power play since Malkin went down with an upper-body injury March 11.
Splitting Crosby and Kessel will give the Penguins the opportunity to share power-play time more evenly between the units.
Rookie Matt Murray got the start Tuesday, playing for the first time since March 17 and the third time since being called up from the minors Feb. 27.
“It’s been a different challenge,” Murray said. “I kind of went through it early last year in my rookie season in the American League. Definitely went through it in the Ontario League when I was younger. It’s not a new thing, but it’s never easy. I’ve tried to use practice as a way to stay sharp.”
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin missed his second consecutive game after taking a hit to the head Saturday in Detroit. Sullivan offered no updates on his condition.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.