Sunday, October 18, 2015

Disco(rd) Dan? Head coach Dan Bylsma "dancing" with Gus during practice yesterday

Reprinted with permission from

If you happen upon a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and ask them about Dan Bylsma one thing invariably comes to the fore with the head coach—he’s notorious for changing lines.
The former Pens bench-boss who’s now head coach of the Buffalo Sabres has a Stanley Cup to his resume’ so it’s not like he’s some career AHL coach getting his first opportunity at the NHL level. That promotion to the big time happened six and a half years ago when the Pittsburgh brought him up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to take over for ineffective Michel Therrien who was fired after an average start for the Penguins. Bylsma and his methods guided Pittsburgh to an 18-3-4 run to finish the regular season and an eventual Stanley Cup that June.
Perhaps he caught lightning in a bottle that year. Although Pittsburgh would make the playoffs the following five seasons under Bylsma, they would make it past the second round only once (in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season) and he would end up getting fired after the 2013-14 season.


Chemistry is a word thrown around all team sports and is often used with the "lack of" precursor when things aren't going well. After scoring 26 goals in seven preseason games (3.71 goals/game) the Buffalo Sabres have scored eight through the first four games of the regular season. And although their powerplay has done extremely well with five goals on 18 opportunities (27.8%) they've managed only three goals at even strength. It's a stat-line that screams "lack of chemistry."

It may be that too much line juggling hasn't allowed for enough time for chemistry to be built amongst players and maybe that's why forward Zemgus Girgensons, who's been playing everywhere up-front, was in a heavy discussion with Bylsma yesterday at practice.

Bylsma was asked afterwards about the "chat" between him and Girgensons and when he was asked who initiated the "conversation" Bylsma replied, "Zemgus." Paul Hamilton followed up by implying that Girgensons may not have been happy with his own play to which the coach replied, "Yeah...I...that's definitely the sentiment."

Dancin' Dan Bylsma was doing a soft-shoe worthy of Fred Astaire which leads one to believe that there was more to it than Girgensons going up to the coach to critique his own game. Although Bylsma wouldn't get into how heated it may have gotten, one reporter asked if longer "chats" like that are to be expected as players and coach get acclimated to each other. The reporter quickly inserted "Maybe not as intense," to which Bylsma replied with a nervous chuckle, "Hopefully you don't see them."

I'm not sure what the conversation was between Girgensons and Blysma, but it might be a sign that the honeymoon's over. Bylsma said that he's never questioned Girgensons effort before directing his answer to "we" in saying that they need to be better.

In all fairness Girgensons is without a point so far this season. He's played well and is a minus-1 while averaging 16:49 per game, but he's been unable to hit the scoresheet. In fact, he negatively affected a goal by Evander Kane by being offside. Kane has yet to score a goal but has two assists.

However, Girgensons has been a victim of Bylsma's penchant for mixing up line combinations. He's played every forward positon and has been on every line save for the fourth line. Friday's practice had him on the third line between Matt Moulson and Marcus Foligno. His best showing, and the teams best showing, was against the Ottawa Senators in the season opener. The offense was lame until Bylsma decided to put Girgensons up with Kane and Eichel. Bylsma himself said that line "lead the charge" in the third period. But the next game Girgensons found himself on the left wing with Ryan O'Reilly at center and Tyler Ennis on the right side.

Low and behold, Bylsma figured it out that Girgensons is a really good center so for the game against Columbus, a 4-2 win for Buffalo (their first of the season,) he had him centering that line. He kept that line the same for the next game at Florida. But the coach liked that rookie Sam Reinhart got in front of the net to provide a screen on Tyler Ennis' goal. It's the second time that Reinhart did it this year and Bylsma was so impressed he put Reinhart in Girgensons' slot on what's considered the first line.

Maybe that's what prompted Girgensons to go to Bylsma at practice. Being ever the diplomat, Girgensons said that they talked about "playing different positions and...just all kinds of stuff." 

Perhaps they talked about how nice the weather is in Florida this time of year. Or, how about that Toronto Blue Jays victory? Or maybe Girgensons brought up how Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins is questioning his use after the team paid a hefty price when they traded up for him.

Come to think of it, the Sabres traded up for Girgensons too.

For this Sabres' fan, Bylsma's constant juggling has gotten old quick. I can't imagine what it's like for the players, especially Girgensons. Although he said that it hasn't affected him, I don't believe it for one second.



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