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Pens drop shootout in Bylsma's debut

Monday, 02.16.2009 / 7:18 PM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Dan Bylsma's debut as an NHL coach didn't end the way he or the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping it would. Instead, it finished the same way all too many under his predecessor had -- with a loss.

Bylsma, named as the interim coach of the Penguins when Michel Therrien was fired Sunday night, saw his team get the better of play against the New York Islanders for most of Monday afternoon, only to see the opponents go home with a 3-2 shootout victory at the Nassau Coliseum.

Frans Nielsen and Jeff Tambellini scored on the first two shootout tries for the Isles, who are last in the overall standings with 40 points. Petr Sykora matched Nielsen's goal, but NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin had the puck dribble off his stick as he tried to deke, and Sidney Crosby was stopped on a great pad save by Joey MacDonald at the right post.

That gave the Penguins one point instead of two. With 60 points, they're still four behind Buffalo and Florida, which are tied for the last two playoff spots in the East, and one point behind ninth-place Carolina.

Bylsma, an Islander assistant during 2005-06 who was promoted after coaching the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to a 35-16-3 record this season, said he didn't try to make major tactical changes, but he did want to see a more aggressive style of play.

"Mentality-wise -- being aggressive. Being on your toes. Make them deal with your speed and skill," Bylsma said of his philosophy. "That's the message we wanted to send. We have speed and skill and we need to utilize it. We want to go north."

It took a while for that to get through to his team. The Penguins didn't really find their legs until the third period, when they hemmed the Islanders in their zone for shifts at a time only to be denied by MacDonald, who made 35 saves in 65 minutes, including 14 in the third period and three more in overtime.

The last of those came in the final minute, when he robbed Crosby alone in the slot.

"Those are the things you need to create -- pucks to the net, scrambles at the net," Bylsma said of his team's play in the final 25 minutes. "Those are situations that the best goalies have a difficult time handling, and that's how you eventually get goals on the scoreboard."
 

 
 

 

The coaching change, which followed a 6-2 loss at Toronto on Saturday in which the Penguins were completely dominated in the third period, took many of the players by surprise.

"I think everybody was," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "I didn't expect it."

Asked to describe his new coach, Fleury termed him "an easy-going guy. He played a lot of games in the NHL, so he knows the game. He had that experience." Crosby admitted he was also somewhat surprised.

"A little bit," Crosby said. "But at the same time, when your team is struggling a bit, that's always something that's brought up. It was a little surprising."

Crosby said there was nothing unusual about preparations for the game.

"We just went about our normal team meetings, like usual," the Penguins' captain said. "There was nothing too much out of the ordinary. The one thing he was stressing was to be more aggressive. That was the main thing."

If there was any team a new coach would want to face, it figured to be the Islanders, who had lost all three meetings with the Penguins this season.

But it was the Isles who came out skating in the early minutes of the game, forcing Fleury to make a couple of good stops. It took the Penguins nearly five minutes to get their first shot on MacDonald.

Fleury had to make a big stop nearly nine minutes into the game when Sean Bergenheim raced in for a wraparound that he stopped and covered at the left post. The Pens had a great chance on the return rush when Tyler Kennedy led a 3-on-1 break and set up Jordan Staal alone in the lot, only to have Radek Martinek get a piece of what looked like a sure goal.

The Islanders got on the board first when Bergenheim's pass from the top of the right circle hit defenseman Chris Campoli's skate as he cut through the slot and caromed past Fleury at 11:34. The goal was upheld after a brief video review.

The Penguins got the game's first power play when Islanders' forward Tim Jackman was called for holding in the offensive zone at 13:59. Staal had two good chances from the slot in the final seconds of the man advantage but was denied both times by MacDonald.

Pittsburgh broke through at 18:07 thanks to a brilliant individual play by Malkin. The Russian star stole the puck in his own zone, raced down left wing on a 2-on-1 break, then used defenseman Brendan Witt as a screen before zipping a wrist shot from near the faceoff dot that went past MacDonald's glove for his 25th goal of the season.

"To stand in front of the room and have a pre-game meeting was surprisingly comfortable. I think as the game went on, we got more in tune with how we want to play. The third period was a good indication of what we need to do." -- New Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma

 

Neither team generated much sustained offense in the first half of the second period. Each team managed only three shots on goal through the first 12 minutes.

But the Islanders finally mounted a forecheck and were rewarded at 13:27 when Fleury stopped but couldn't hold Andy Hilbert's shot from the top of the right circle. The puck dropped into the crease, where Nielsen was able to swat it into the net through a pile of legs and sticks to make it 2-1.

Pittsburgh appeared energized after falling behind and earned a power play when Isles' defenseman Mark Streit was called for holding at 15:59. The Pens capitalized 68 seconds later when Crosby, set up to the left of MacDonald, found defenseman Ryan Whitney cutting in from the left point. Whitney took the pass, moved just inside the left circle and found the back of the net with a high wrist shot through a screen that caught the top corner past the goaltender's blocker.

The Penguins got another power-play chance when Kyle Okposo took yet another holding penalty, this one in the offensive zone at 18:16. The Penguins mounted good pressure in the final minute of the period, but lost their power play with 9.4 seconds left when Malkin drew four minutes for roughing during a scramble while Campoli was given just two. But the Isles generated little offense when they got the man advantage 16 seconds into the final period.

The Penguins dominated the rest of the third period and the overtime, but came up short in the shootout -- largely because of MacDonald.

The Penguins have two days off before hosting Montreal on Thursday -- giving Bylsma and his new team some time to get used to each other.

"This is an opportunity that you always look for," he said. "It's something that I planned for and worked for. To stand in front of the room and have a pre-game meeting was surprisingly comfortable. I think as the game went on, we got more in tune with how we want to play. The third period was a good indication of what we need to do."

 
 

Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres