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The Inside Scoop: Game Day (Pens vs. Sabres)

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Hello hockey fans. Tonight the Pens welcome back Sabres coach Dan Bylsma when they host Buffalo at CONSOL Energy Center.

Pittsburgh is coming off of two impressive back-to-back road victories against Nashville and Washington. The Sabres meanwhile got their first road victory of the season Tuesday night in an overtime victory at Philadelphia.

There is no bigger storyline for tonight’s game than the return of former Pens head coach Dan Bylsma. Everyone knows Dan’s story. He began the 2008-09 season with his first head coaching job – with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He ended that season by hoisting the Stanley Cup after a dramatic Game 7 victory against the Detroit Red Wings.

Bylsma is the winningest coach in Penguins’ team history with 252 victories over 5-plus seasons. So it will be an emotional return for himself.

“I was a part of this organization for eight years and (in Pittsburgh) for 5-and-a-half of them,” Bylsma said on Wednesday after his team’s practice at CONSOL Energy Center. “There is a lot of familiarity walking into this building.”

Many Pens players have experienced this before, facing an old bench boss, during their careers. And they said tonight will a similar experience.

“The first time is always a little different,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “At this point we’ve all dealt with those things before. Once you get into the game you kind of get into it. Everything becomes normal. The initial start is always like that.”

Bylsma looked back at his time in Pittsburgh fondly while speaking with the media.

“I got the opportunity to coach a great team and a great group of players and a great organization,” Bylsma said. “We had some successes and some wins and we had some disappointments.”

Bylsma was relieved of his duties by new general manager Jim Rutherford, but he said he knew that day was inevitable.

“I knew if we lost to the Rangers (in 2014) I wouldn’t be back,” he said. “Whether it was four weeks later or whenever. I knew we needed to win. We needed to win a Stanley Cup and we didn’t.”

Bylsma admitted that he was disappointed with the team’s postseason successes.

“I hate to say we came close. We put ourselves in positions to win series and move on, and we didn’t,” he said. “That’s my only lament about the situation. I think we should have and we didn’t.”

Since the Pens played last night in Washington they did not hold a morning skate. However, one roster change will feature Jeff Zatkoff making his season debut between the pipes for Pittsburgh.

The Pens know what to expect from a Dan Bylsma coached team. The Buffalo Sabres are going to keep their F3 high in the defensive zone and look for the stretch pass to breakout of the zone and push the rush. When in the offensive zone the Sabres will use an intense forecheck and cycle to wear down the Pens defense.

With the Sabres high F3 there will be some open ice above the circles. The Pens can exploit the open ice in the offensive zone both in keeping the puck in the zone or setting up a shot from the point. The Pens D will need to be ready to get up ice if the Sabres do push the puck out of the zone with speed. If the Pens can win puck battles in the defensive zone they’ll be able to thwart Buffalo’s forecheck.

Where: CONSOL Energy Center
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: 105.9 the X, the Penguins Radio Network
Social: @penguins, @PensInsideScoop
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