PITTSBURGH -- Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma was complimentary of his opposing number's coaching acumen but didn't let a chance to get in a dig about Flyers coach Peter Laviolette's tirade on April 1 when asked about the coaching matchup in the playoffs.
“He’s won a lot of hockey games and has been with different teams and won hockey games, and had success and clearly showed he’s a real good coach in this league,” Bylsma said of Laviolette Wednesday morning.
“He’s going to have matchups that he goes after and that he thinks are important for his team. He’s also a coach who does a real good job of adjusting his team and his team’s mindset, whether it’s in-game or game-to-game as well,” Bylsma said.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Peter as a coach and what he’s done regardless, of the name-calling,” Bylsma said with a grin at the very end of his morning press briefing.
Laviolette, of course, was incensed after a late-game hit by Joe Vitale injured Daniel Briere in the second-last regular season meeting between the two teams, engaging in an angry screaming match with the Penguins bench. Laviolette earned a $10,000 fine for his efforts while Pittsburgh assistant coach Tony Granato was fined $2,500.
We happened to be on hand for Max Talbot’s emotional return to Pittsburgh in late December. There was a nice video tribute to a player who will go down in Penguins lore as the man who scored the Stanley Cup winner in 2009 in Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings. Those memories for Talbot and the fans in Pittsburgh will always exist. But facing his former team in what promises to be a taxing and potentially nasty playoff series, Talbot won’t be taking many trips down memory lane and he certainly won’t be holding back even if there are strong connections still with the team and its players.
“It’s a playoff series, it’s obviously emotional. But I think the emotion and all the things that happened this year you kind of move forward and now you’ll do everything you can to play your best,” Talbot said.
Speaking of Joe Vitale, while the Flyer roster is chock-a-block with rookies, it’s likely that Vitale will be the only Penguins rookie in the Game 1 lineup Wednesday.
A native of St. Louis, Vitale is unusual in that he has parlayed a very specific set of hockey skills into an NHL career.
“Joe’s kind of a unique guy,” Bylsma said. “He’s not a guy who rearranged his role or how he plays the game from when he was drafted, when he played college and then when he started pro. He’s pretty much always played the same exact way.”
Speedy, hard-hitting, good in the faceoff circle, Vitale has as always played that role, from college hockey on through the AHL, where he rarely playing above a third-line center role the Penguins coach noted.
“Coming into training camp, he was one of the guys who not very many people were talking about. Not many people thought he had a chance to make our team,” he said.
But he has worked hard to find a niche with a deep, experienced Penguins team, Bylsma said.
Vitale, one of six children, said he’s trying to keep it all in perspective.
“Nothing really needs to be said,” he said. “It’s still a hockey game.”
“I’ve come a long way,” he added. “But I definitely don’t take anything for granted.”
It’s not surprising to hear that Jaromir Jagr would like to return to the NHL next season. But the curious part is that he wants to come back because he thinks he can be better, which is something given that by almost any standard he’s enjoyed a successful return to the NHL after three years playing in Russia.
“And that's why I want to play, why I want to continue to play, because I think I can get a lot better than I was this year,” the five-time NHL scoring champ said Wednesday.
“I'm not going to say I wasn't ready, but no matter how ready you are, you still have to go through this. Because you practice differently, you play in a different game for the last three years. You cannot play the same kind of game -- you would look stupid on the big ice. And then you get used to that type of stuff, you cannot switch it in a week or two. And everybody has to go through this,” Jagr said.
“I want to play next year, for sure. I'm going to play if something bad doesn't happen to me over the summer. I want to play because I love the game. I love the game. I believe no matter how old you are, you still can learn. As long as you love the game, as long as you're willing to work hard, you can learn even when you turn 50,” Jagr said.
Although the assumption is that the Czech star would like to return to Philadelphia, Jagr was a bit vague.
“I don't know where I'm going to play, but it doesn't matter because I love the game and right now I'm here right now," he said. "I'm trying to get ready for this playoffs. Whatever happens after that…”
Asked specifically if he still wants to stay with the Flyers, Jagr said with a smile, “Well, if they're interested, we can always talk about it.”
Then: “Stop talking about myself. After playoffs over, then we can talk about stuff like that. But right now it's lot more important things that me.”