Pittsburgh Penguins (11-3-0) at Anaheim Ducks (4-6-2), 7 pm
Avian expertise: Anaheim Calling on the Ducks and Pensburgh on the Penguins.
Boy, this should be exciting. Pittsburgh, the team with the most wins in the league (yay!), comes to town to play Anaheim, the team with the fewest wins in the west (groan). And I'm going to be there, wearing the lucky green shirt in Row B (yaaaay!) along with my parents (groooooaaaan). Could be an extremely long night.
There's plenty to talk about today -- the two-game suspension of James Wisniewski (apparently for hitting an Olympian during an Olympic year), the waiving of Eric Christensen (apparently for not making his teammates compete hard enough), the return of Chris Kunitz to Anaheim (who stunningly now has two postseason goals over the past three years, and two Stanley Cup rings to show for it), and the enigma known as Cotton Gin playing against his old team. Feel free to discuss any of that in the comments.
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Instead of tackling any of those topics, though, I want to take a few moments and reminisce about one former Mighty Duck who's making a return to Anaheim tonight -- Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma played nine seasons in the league entirely for "BoC South" -- five seasons in L.A. followed by four in Anaheim, all pretty much as a fourth-line/penalty-killing forward.
He wasn't flashy or glamorous, wasn't huge or fast, and rarely made his mark on the scoresheet, but was quite smart and efficient -- he made smart Marchant-type plays that kept the puck away from his own end. And while my memories are faded, I'll always remember the nickname I assigned him -- "Fourth Line Pressure!" You see, in Anaheim at least, Bylsma was inserted on a depth line usually with some kid (Marc Chouinard, say) and some fighter, and they usually played spare energy shifts. But it seemed consistently, Bylsma was able to help that line keep its head above water -- they taught me the value of 45-second offensive-zone cycles, and how useful an energy line could really be.
Yeah, I'm probably over-glamorizing a bit based on selective memory, but there were definitely times when a Bylsma fourth line would come out and have a monumental shift -- it'd rarely result with a puck in either net, but they played an honest, hard-working game, and would really put pressure on their opposition. And Bylsma carried that same attitude on the PK -- worked hard, used the boards, and generally was a reassuring player to have on the ice.
Now I don't want to overstate things -- when I asked my Kings pal about Bylsma's time in L.A. he gave me a solid "meh" shoulder shrug, and history shows he wasn't an essential player (Bylsma didn't appear in the 2003 postseason until Patric Kjellberg left the team, but he was a +3 in the last two rounds). But he was definitely a serviceable player -- a very useful plugger who could legitimize a fourth-line shift.
And that's almost why I think he's got the tools to be a fantastic head coach, though I don't really watch enough Pittsburgh games to verify. There's an odd feature about sports, I think, in that the best players rarely turn out to become the best coaches. Wayne Gretzky, for instance -- there's little to suggest he was a capable bench boss. Some of that may be psychological, but I think there's some decent rationale why role players make better coaches -- after all, who really needs the coaching, the top-line superstars or the fourth-line grinders? Seems to me that a guy like Bylsma who made his living in non-glamorous minutes has a better understanding of how to coach non-superstars, and to me that's a key element to winning. Crosby and Malkin (latter is injured tonight) can play well under most anybody -- it's the supporting cast that usually makes the difference in how well a team finishes.
Again, this is just idle speculation -- there may be entirely different reasons why Bylsma is succeeding as a head coach and Gretzky has failed (yes, personnel is more than valid). But generally, I'm not surprised at either outcome -- Bylsma was Mr. "Fourth Line Pressure!" as a player, seems he'd be an ideal guy to teach it to the new generation of kids; it's one of the reasons I look at a guy like Todd Marchant and see a potential future NHL coach. (Note: I really don't know where to put Randy Carlyle on this Bylsma-to-Gretzky player scale. He was never a guy I saw play. But it's open for discussion, too.)
So anyways, tonight I'm sure the Honda Center will have some Chris Kunitz montage moment, and I'll definitely stand and applaud for Kunitz -- he was a phenomenal bargain of hustle, grit, and character for the Ducks. But I'll also be partially applauding for Dan "Fourth Line Pressure!" Bylsma, too (I'm guessing they won't have a Bylsma montage -- too many Disney logos). Congrats on a fantastic start to your coaching career, Dan, and thanks for the hustle, grit, and character you brought to an earlier Ducks team. In a sense, you were my first Pahlsson.
Fourth line pressure! Let's hope to see some tonight.
Prediction: Ducks win? Could happen. Regardless, Sleek feels uncomfortable behaving in front of his parents.