Friday, December 31, 2010

Pittsburgh Coach Dan Bylsma Speaks After Friday's Winter Classic Practice

Q. I know someone else will ask. I wondered if you could talk a bit about where Evgeni Malkin's game is right now and sort of assess what you would like to see from him?

COACH BYLSMA: Whoever's going to ask the Jordan Staal question, whoever that might be, he'll be game time decision. Evgeni Malkin. I think this has been his best probably four or five games away from the puck. I think he's working very hard. He's working hard to find his way. He's playing the game the right way. And the disappointing part is he's created for himself and his line five or six goal?scoring opportunities in the game, the last few games, and hasn't reaped the rewards. A couple of them have been break?aways in the Washington game and in the
Ottawa game, he had a couple of pointblank chances all alone and didn't get the puck get to go in. And I would like to see that happen for them.

But I think he's playing really well away from the puck and it's been contagious for our team and the players out there with him that he's focusing on that part of his game and he's helped us out a lot in that area.

Q. This matchup always seems to have found him Ovechkin at the top of his game. I'm just wondering, as a coaching staff, is there anything you can do to change that dynamic?

COACH BYLSMA: Well, a lot of the success that we've seen Alex have against us is off the rush, coming off the wing, dancing on our defensemen and getting that shot, putting that shot on net. But the best thing we can do, we think having our tracking forwards come back and limiting those rush opportunities, pushing that rush into our defense.

But we keep preaching. It's something we've worked really hard on this year is having a good gap and snuffing that out before it gets to that dangerous position where he can find himself in at the top of the circles or below, and the last game we were fairly successful at that. It's a tall task. It's not something that one guy can do or just a shut?down pair. It's a responsibility of the forwards and the defense together. But something we're definitely trying to do.

And then where he's at on the power play is always an issue. He was at the net before he played us and the last game against us he moved out to more of a one?time position where we've seen them score some goals from him. Something we have to be aware of.

Q. What would go into a game?time decision about Staal? And two, stuff that was said 24/7 about Malkin by their coaching staff, is that something you would think is an accurate statement then about his game, and also would that be something you could look at, when somebody says that about him?

COACH BYLSMA: There were three questions there, correct? I'm not going to tell you on the first. Yes, I think he's going to see that, and that's not the first time that he's been ?? we've talked about that being something that teams have tried to do and then our response to that as well. And I know the Capitals and Bruce paid Sidney a compliment, but we've also said that to Sid at times, especially when Playoffs roll around, that those are areas of the game that teams try to target and go after and we're aware of them.

And I think it's a compliment. I think it's a compliment that they think that's what they have to do to get you off your game. It's something we have to be aware of and in Gino's case, has to get better about the response.

But they don't come after Craig Adams.

Q. There's some uncertainty about how it's going to play out tomorrow, but there's a possibility you guys could be sitting in the dressing room kind of waiting through a rain delay like baseball players do. They're accustomed to that, hockey players are not. What would you say to them to help them prepare for that?

COACH BYLSMA: Hopefully we have a little more information as we get closer to the game on the weather. But hockey players go through a good 35?, 40?minute warm?up to get to the warm?up. And the warm?up is a little anticlimactic. So it is an issue in that scenario you're talking about where you might have to warm up and then might not play and then you gotta cool down and then you gotta warm back up again.

I think that, mentally, that could be an issue if it dragged out for a couple of hours. But we're going to be prepared for that situation and every player, I think, is going to understand that. They're going to have to restart at a certain point if we get into that situation. We're not going to be able to control that.

We are ready for it. We've discussed it. And we've also said our prayers to make sure we get off at the right time tomorrow as well.

Q. I think this rink was built kind of in a record time. You had a hard?hitting alumni game before that. You had some rain, you had some sun. What was the ice like what were the conditions like, and what do you expect tomorrow that way and it might play in how the game's played?

COACH BYLSMA: The ice was, as I think you could see, it was soft. It was surprisingly ?? the puck was surprisingly flat on it. The guys commented that, given the conditions, that it was better than maybe we thought it might be. It was, again, soft, but the puck was flat. They were passing it fine.

The one situation is with the wetness of the ice like that, sliding for the goalies across the crease, that was something where Flower did say it's not the same side. But given the situation we were coming in, the ice was better than ?? it was pretty darned good for the conditions out there.
And the ice is different in every rink, and we're ready to play. And I thought the boards and the conditions were fine to play a game. So it was an exciting day. And I put it up there with a lot of my best experiences in hockey being out there today. I had a great time.

Q. Dan, there's a lot of matchups within this rivalry. One of them is the coaches. I'm curious, what have you taken from all the matchups you've had with Bruce, and do you have a read on maybe what he's going to do, because you've coached against him enough times now?

COACH BYLSMA: Well, I mean, we've gone back for a couple of years in Hershey. I played for Bruce for a couple of games. And he was in the other organization. So we've had conversations in the past.

And we certainly coached a number of games against each other. I think there are teams and the tendencies that they have, I'm not sure there's going to be any surprises between the two of us.
How he likes to get his players out there, you know, I guess the last game we played him, I was maybe a little bit surprised about the lineup that he did go with and some of the switches he did make for the lineup.

But you know where he likes to get ? I can guess when Ovechkin's going to get out there sometimes, given the situation of the game where the faceoff is at. And sometimes he does the double shift on you to get Ovechkin back out there.

So there's some things that are going to happen in the game, but you talk about a talented team with some very good tendencies offensively, and he has seen that in his teams in Hershey as well.

Q. Just explain Letang, why he's made such a leap. Is it just maturity? Is there more opportunity with Gonchar gone or is there more beyond that?

COACH BYLSMA: I think I would say that I was probably a little disappointed with his year last year. I thought you'd see this in greater colors last year.

In the Playoffs, he came on and I believe he got five goals in the Playoffs and had the type of playoff that you're seeing in play right now.

But defense is a hard position. It's a tough one. Sometimes even the second year through is even a little bit more tough than the first year. And the maturity and growth of a player, sometimes defense especially doesn't happen the way you like to or the way they like to.

And you're seeing a guy, he's had the confidence to play this game last year, but you're seeing him, I think, consistently add both offensively and defensively. And two years ago he was a stalwart for us defensively, not so much offensively in the Playoffs. He was shutting down Hossa's line and doing an outstanding job at that. Didn't get a lot of recognition for it, but we knew the job he did on Hossa in the Playoffs in that playoff year. And last year didn't have the numbers that I think he was hoping to have.

And there was a contract in there and some other things that may have affected his year. But you're seeing a confident guy who can skate, can defend. He skates so well both sides of the puck and can really shoot it. And you're seeing that consistently, so we're not surprised to see it. And we hope to continue to see it.

Q. I'm sure Jordan really wants to get back to this game. He's pushing you to play in what could be a once?in?a?lifetime opportunity. How do you balance that with him returning, different conditions, that kind of thing?

COACH BYLSMA: Considering the fact that it's his first game coming up and hasn't had a training camp and has gone through the injuries, it's more difficult versus if he'd been out at training camp and played 20 games and missed 15.

So it's tough to figure out where to put a guy back in who hasn't had the training camp and hasn't played. And the confidence level with the injuries he's had and the one that he's coming off of are issues going in. So that's the answer to Shelly's question, too.

Q. Where does it stand tomorrow and playing with Gino, what is part of your plan?

COACH BYLSMA: That still is the plan. We've had discussions about when he does get back, what kind of role he'll be played in. I don't think we'll put him in a 20?minute, 19?minute role that he's been in the past, but I could see him jumping right into 14 to 16 minutes penalty killing and playing center with Malkin on the wing.


More Later...

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