Penguins interim head coach Dan Bylsma held his first practice with the team at Mellon Arena Wednesday afternoon. During the practice, which lasted well over two hours, Bylsma taught and implemented as much of his system as possible.
“That was an attempt at training camp in short order,” Bylsma said. “The players understand the situation and understand that today was going to be a little bit different than a normal day. We talked about the things we’re looking for and the habits we’re going to try to develop in a short order.”
“It was a good day of work,” forward Maxime Talbot said. “It was kind of a three-hour training camp to make some adjustments. We worked on power play and PK, put a little bit more detail into the game. We worked on forecheck and offensive-zone plays. It all comes with speed and grit.”
Speed is the key to Bylsma’s “aggressive” approach to the game. He wants the Penguins to use their speed and skill to attack and overwhelm opponents, a method that proved effective for Bylsma in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“The goal is to play at a pace and play in a way that challenges the other team to keep up with you,” Bylsma said. “In order to do that, you need your skating, the puck movement and you need to execute. There are certain drills that are for pace, for getting up the ice, for our D getting up the ice. For us to establish the habits that we need and the pace that need to play the game at, we need to establish that with our practice.”
“(Bylsma) wants us to play more aggressive,” Sidney Crosby
said. “I don’t think we’re changing everything. We’re not turning everything upside down. There are certain areas where we’re trying to be more aggressive.
“We want to have the puck and make plays. That outlook is true. Look at a lot of good teams, they’re puck-possession teams. In order to maintain possession you have to win your battles and do a lot of different things that aren’t Xs and Os either. It’s up to us to make sure our work ethic is there to make sure that we do those things.”
Bylsma’s aggressive idea of north-south hockey may give the impression that he is completely opening up the Penguins’ offense to the detriment of their defense. Bylsma said that is not the case.
“I think the initial reaction to my using the word ‘aggressive,’ and dictating the pace, is that it’s offensive,” he said. “I never said that we’re going to play an offensive game. I said we’re going to play a fast, aggressive game. When we have the puck we want to be fast and aggressive. When we don’t have the puck I want to be fast and aggressive. I want to play defense as soon as we can and pursue the puck with numbers. When you do that you play defense in an aggressive sort of way. You limit the time you're in the defensive zone and you can get to the offensive zone with speed, and now you can be aggressive on the offensive side.”
Pittsburgh’s defensemen will also be expected to be assertive in their own zone. Bylsma wants his blueliners to be physical, to attack the puck carrier and dictate the pace even without the puck.
“We’re not going to give any time and space to the forwards,” Sergei Gonchar said. “As soon as they have the puck we’re going to attack him and we’re going to try to apply pressure as soon as we can. The style will be different. We have a good skating team and I think we’ll be able to adjust to it.”
With only 24 games remaining in the season, it may seem like there isn’t enough time for the Penguins to fully adopt Bylsma’s style. However, the basic structure of the system is the same as the one the Penguins ran under former head coach Michel Therrien.
I want to establish with our team our identity and how we need to play and how we can play. When we play that way, the scales tip in your favor. - Dan Bylsma
“It’s not all that different of a system and the principles are still the same,” blueliner Rob Scuderi said. “We might be a little more aggressive but we’re basically in the same position. It’s not all that different.”
“The systems aren’t that much different,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. “It’s more just the mentality and the attitude. He just wants us to be a lot more aggressive in every zone and play with more confidence really. Guys were playing with a lack of confidence and playing to not make mistakes rather than forcing the issue. I don’t think it’s going to be a big adjustment for us as long as our attitude changes.”
Bylsma’s philosophy is built on the fact that he doesn’t want his team reading and reacting to the plays on the ice. Instead, the new head coach wants the Penguins to force the issue and assert their will by dictating the game.
“I’m not interested in playing a 50-50 game,” Bylsma said. “I’m not interested in seeing how the first period goes. I want to establish with our team our identity and how we need to play and how we can play. When we play that way, the scales tip in your favor.”