For all of Dan Bylsma’s regular-season success in the NHL, his Pittsburgh Penguins teams have struggled in the playoffs since claiming the Stanley Cup in 2009.
While Bylsma’s Penguins have gone 223-105-24 in the five full seasons following their ultimate triumph (a .667 points percentage), Pittsburgh has posted a 20-21 record in the playoffs over that span, winning just three of seven series.
Yes, playoff matchups are always going to be more challenging than anything the regular season can present, but one would expect a team with the Penguins’ pedigree to do better than .500 in the postseason crucible. Nevertheless, Bylsma remains one of the most respected coaches in hockey, a standing that led to his assignment to head Team USA at the Olympics.
I wrote Tuesday about the five Penguins who stand to benefit the most by staying home from the Olympics, but I think Bylsma is on the opposite side of that coin – he could gain quite a bit from succeeding in Russia, even if it’s just a temporary appointment.
Expectations have vexed the 43-year-old Bylsma during his time in Pittsburgh, but he’s in a nice position with Team USA. On the one hand, this is probably the most talented squad of Americans ever to challenge for an Olympic title, and Bylsma has trusted Penguins associates Tony Granato and Ray Shero with him in Sochi to provide support.
But although the United States could easily find themselves in the gold-medal game next Sunday, they’re definitely not the favorites in this tournament. Host Russia and defending champion Canada seem to be getting the most hype, with Sweden and Finland not far behind.
The combination of firepower and (relatively) modest pressure could lead to great results for the Americans, despite the fact they haven’t medaled in the Eastern Hemisphere since 1972. The unfamiliar environs will be a challenge, but they shouldn’t be enough to neutralize Team USA’s chances.
On top of all that, Bylsma has the Pittsburgh defensive pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik to turn toward in times of stress. Although those two haven’t been terrific for the Penguins for various reasons, they do provide veteran ballast on a young American blueline.
Bylsma has prepared for his Olympic moment with typical thoroughness, which should translate to a Team USA that’s raring to go for Thursday morning’s opener against Slovakia.
Tournament-style action hasn’t been welcoming to recent Bylsma-led Penguins squads, but Sochi could set up perfectly for a Disco resurgence on the international stage.