PITTSBURGH -- The last two Jack Adams Award winners, Dave Tippett of Phoenix and Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh, will coach against each other for the one and only time this season Monday. It was a matchup both coaches have looked forward to for months.
They didn't discuss strategies or philosophies in advance of the game, of course, but they did so last summer while taking part in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in Toronto.
The summer session allows the League to test various rules proposals and potential changes to the game, and gain instant input from coaches and general managers. The players utilized were some of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft, and they tested such concepts as three-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, hybrid icing and minor penalties that must be served in full even if a goal is scored.
Generally the coaches have opposite approaches to the game -- Tippett is all about playing skillfully in the defensive end, minimizing scoring chances and turning defense into offense, while Bylsma emphasizes puck possession and getting to the offensive zone as much as possible.
At the R&D camp, however, Tippett and Bylsma discovered that their seemingly different ways of competing are very similar.
"As a coach, you very seldom get into a game where you can throw caution to the wind and try a lot of different things,” Tippett said Monday. “I really liked what the NHL does; they bring those young players in and you get a look at them. And Dan I had a great time trying to concoct rules and try different things that might help the game. Any time you can spend time around other coaches, it benefits everybody.”
Especially when you discover that a coach shares much of the same philosophy as you do, yet implements it in a different way.
Talent, of course, has something to do with the way each coach goes about his business. With players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Bylsma understandably wants to keep the pressure on opponents at all times. Tippett doesn’t have as much offensive skill in Phoenix, so he must make certain the Coyotes play with discipline and determination and turn an opponent’s mistakes into goals.
That’s evident from the statistics. The Penguins are a plus-40 in goal differential (207-167) despite a succession of injuries to key players; the Coyotes are only plus-5 (170-165), yet Phoenix went into Monday’s games with 75 points, only six fewer than Pittsburgh.
“It's always interesting because most conversations when it comes to their team is that their team plays on the other side of the puck. When you read their clippings and their articles, they tend to talk about the defensive side," Bylsma said. "If you read ours, you probably tend to talk about the other side. But I know they're cognizant of the other side of the puck as well. They're a very aggressive team, both on their forecheck and in the neutral zone. It's not sit back and play defense or trap and wait for the other team to come at you."
When Tippett and Bylsma talked, it turned out that the words "be aggressive" appear frequently in each coach's conversations with his players.
"While they do talk about the other side of the puck more than our team does, they are a very aggressive team and are going to come at you both forechecking-wise and in the neutral zone," said Bylsma. "I think it's a key to how they play the game, very similar to the way we play the game, being aggressive and coming at you."
Both coaches would like to attend another Research and Development Camp in the future. Tippett called it "a great experience," in part because coaches gain insight into how others prepare and motivate their teams and implement strategy.
"Both of us tried some interesting things there," Bylsma said. "I don't think we'll see any of those things tonight in the game. (Tippett) did do some interesting things, but I'm not sure I've seen any of it in the two full games I've watched of his team. That was more experimenting than anything."