Surging Pittsburgh Penguins Helping Dan Bylsma Keep His Job

Nick DeWittAnalyst IMarch 24, 2009

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 16:  Interim head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on as his team plays against the New York Islanders on February 16, 2009 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Time to remove the interim tag?  Not quite yet.

But Dan Bylsma has certainly put himself into contention to keep the Penguins head coaching job. In fact, he's put a stranglehold on it.

When Bylsma arrived, the wayward Penguins were falling like a stone through the Eastern Conference standings.

He'd have to win better than half the remaining 26 games of the season to get the team to the playoffs and even then it'd be a dicey scenario.

All he's done since is win all but five games (with only two losses in regulation) and turn the Penguins back into an attacking, shooting, dangerous unit.

There are still kinks in the system. Bylsma must get the team's defense to perform better, particularly in the last 20 minutes.

He also has to keep working on getting the Power Play units back to scoring. 

But what he's done in only a few short weeks is make the Penguins into a very scary looking postseason contender.

In some ways, they look ever better than last year's team. They shoot more, they play better defense, and the penalty kill has been phenomenal.

Ray Shero has a hand in this, too. After last year's disappointment of losing Marian Hossa after the season, Shero spent this deadline acquiring contracted players for small concessions.

Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin couldn't have been more successful thus far in black and gold. Kunitz might have been the best acquisition in the NHL at this year's deadline.

What impresses me most though is Bylsma's coaching. 

Whereas former coach Michael Therrien coached his game and plugged the players into his idea of hockey, Bylsma is coaching a game that fits the strengths of his infinitely talented roster.

He's got this stable of young, amazing skaters shooting and scoring and moving fast. 

The Penguins' greatest asset as a team might be their speed and skill with the sticks.  Finally, they have a coach that is using that speed.

There's no better case than Jordan Staal. Staal, in almost two years under Therrian's coaching, was becoming invisible. He was great on the penalty kill, but he never seemed to find the net with any consistency.

Staal, under Bylsma, looks like an entirely different player. He's everywhere. He's a beast at the end of games, fighting in the corners and getting open and finding guys with pinpoint passes. He's becoming a scoring machine like the two centers on the lines above his.

You may have heard of them. They are Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the top two scorers in the NHL.

Malkin and particularly Crosby have been skating better under Bylsma as well. Crosby has started to score at an alarming pace. There's even talk he could catch Malkin. The problem is Malkin's torrid pace has kept up too.

The new guys, Kunitz and Guerin, are experiencing a huge windfall of points playing on Crosby's wings and occasionally with Malkin as well.

The Penguins are going to be scary come playoff time. They'll be even scarier if Bylsma works out those last few kinks.

The scariest thing of all, though?

Most of this team's core is under contract again for next year, too. If Bylsma can duplicate his small sample size of success over a full season, watch out.