BSH: How much of a change is expected from Dan Bylsma to Mike Johnston? Was that big change really warranted?
Pensburgh: To answer the last part first, yeah, it probably was warranted. For the fifth season in a row, the Penguins failed to win any games in the third round in the playoffs. It was the fifth time in a row that they lost to a lower seeded team. 3 out of 5 years they blew 3-1 or 3-2 series leads to those lower seeded teams and the other years were 2012 (where I don't need to remind you of just how unglued the Pens were against the Flyers) and 2013, when Boston dismantled and swept them. That's too much failure for too many years for a team that wants to contend for Stanley Cups.
The system should be dramatically different -- a lot has come out about how rigid Bylsma's forechecking scheme was- dependent on timing and the left wing always being in a certain spot, the right wing being somewhere to support, and so on. The defensive zone puck retrievals have been called complicated (at the nicest) by every defenseman that ever used it. The breakouts stressed long stretch passes. To be fair, when the system was clicking, it really worked well and the team had success, but it definitely was very detailed and intricate compared to the "average" NHL system.
Johnston's system is more free-flowing; less structure on the forecheck to encourage more thinking among the players and less robotic reactions. He's encouraging the defensemen to jump up in the rush and support the play a lot more. The long passes are mostly out and quick support passes are in. It's still very early, but early results are encouraging that it fits the high skill of the team. We'll see if it adds up to more or less success when it's fully implemented in the NHL regular season, but it will definitely be a different look.
In my estimation, Pittsburgh's bottom six was the reason for their playoff failure last year. Is it better this year?
It should be. Possession black-holes Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale are out. New faces like Blake Comeau and Steve Downie are in. The team made an effort to scrub out a lot of their depth and add new faces.
With Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc, they should have decent lower line centers. They're still not the deepest team, especially if injuries strike as badly as it did last year, but at least they've tried to address adding more quality to their depth players.
Say one nice thing about Philadelphia, and mean it.
I will pay the compliment (and I do mean this complimentary) that at least the Flyers try their best to do something every year. Effort is never the problem. Like, Ryan Johansen would never not have a contract if he played in Philly. They might go about it the wrong way sometimes, and I definitely laugh when it always falls apart, but I can definitely tip my cap to the passion and desperation that the team has to put a great product out there for your fans.
If all 30 teams had the pocketbook and desire to win that Philadelphia did, the league would be a crazier but more competitive place. And a lot more players would have buyouts for years to come.
What's the deal with Marc-Andre Fleury? What are we supposed to think about him this week?
It can swing a lot in the course of the season, so I just look at the macro level. Every year for the past six years of his contract he's ended up near 40 wins, with an about-average save percentage that will probably be around .915. Not ideal, but good enough to get the job done from October through April, and that's probably what will happen again this year, big picture.
After that point, all bets are off. He was fairly decent in the playoffs last season, only allowed 15 goals in the 7 games in the Rangers series. He wasn't the reason Pittsburgh lost that series, but he doesn't really provide a lot compared to his $5 million salary, which is why I think this will probably be the final year of MAF in Pittsburgh. So enjoy the occasional comedy of errors in its final performance.
Can Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stay healthy together for most of the season?
Last year they got a combined 140 games out of the two of them, if they could get that every year that sure would be swell. But, of course, Malkin hasn't even skated yet this preseason -- the Penguins still maintain it is "minor" and he will be "fine" but they're guarding information better than the Secret Service guards the White House.
It's not known even remotely what Malkin's injury is or any type of outlook on when he will progress. The hand has definitely moved over to the panic button on whether or not he'll be ready for the season opener, at this point. Luckily, the Pens only play 4 games up until October 18, so if he needs a few more weeks he won't even really miss too much time early in the year.