UNIONDALE, N.Y. – If Dan Bylsma can’t turn around the Pittsburgh Penguins in their final 24 games, the defending Eastern Conference champions will be in the same sorry state as the lowly New York Islanders – out of the playoffs.
Bylsma stepped behind the Penguins bench on Monday for the first time as an NHL head coach, less than 24 hours after taking over for the fired Michel Therrien.
The result was not much better than many under the old regime as Pittsburgh was beaten by the Islanders 3-2 in a shootout.
Frans Nielsen and Jeff Tambellini scored shootout goals, and Joey MacDonald turned aside Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the tiebreaker to snap the Islanders’ 0-4-1 skid.
“I was a little bit surprised, but the team is struggling, so things can happen,” captain Crosby said of the change.
“The first time we met him was at a team meeting this morning, and then we went through our normal pre-game routine.”
Bylsma got the call that he would replace Therrien on Sunday, just before he was set to coach his Wilkes Barre-Scranton club in an AHL game.
The decision to dismiss Therrien, who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals last year, was made by general manager Ray Shero after Pittsburgh blew a 2-0 lead at Toronto and gave up five goals in the third period of a 6-2 loss Saturday.
“When I talked to Ray Shero (Sunday), there were some nerves,” Bylsma said. “But this was an opportunity you work for and if you are granted it, you do the best you can.
“I think with the little time we’ve had together, as the game went on, we got more in tune with the way we should be playing.”
Bylsma is faced with the task of implementing a new fast, attacking style that can make the most of the Penguins’ talented forwards.
It produced a season-high 37 shots Monday, but only one point in the standings.
Malkin and Ryan Whitney scored tying goals, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves through overtime for the Penguins, 1-7-2 on the road in 2009.
Pittsburgh (27-25-6) is 10th in the Eastern Conference, two places and four points below the playoff cutoff.
“We want two points every game, especially right now,” forward Jordan Staal said. “The guys in the dressing room know what we’re capable of. We know what we can do out there.
“It’s a matter of going out and doing it.”
Chris Campoli and Frans Nielsen scored for New York, which owns the NHL’s worst record (17-33-6).
Bylsma paced behind the Penguins bench, keeping his arms folded for most of the game, and taking occasional drinks from a water bottle.
He leaned over several times to talk to his new players. Only two Penguins in the lineup played under Bylsma in the AHL.
“He was right in the mix,” Staal said. “In the third we really started to show what we could do in that system. Obviously we didn’t get the result.”
The Penguins erased a pair of one-goal deficits with 20 shots through two periods and then turned it on.
“We have to play that way for 60 minutes,” Bylsma said. “If you do, you tip the scales in your favour.”