For head coach Dan Bylsma and the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing in outdoor games is nothing new. The Stadium Series game against the Chicago Blackhawks will be their third such game since 2008, and it will be the second that Bylsma himself has coached.
Rather than focusing on the novelty of taking the game outdoors, the Penguins coach seems to be focused more on the opponent across the ice rather than where the rink is located.
“I think throughout the year you might have three of these types of opponents, and in this case, you’re playing a Western Conference team that you don’t play very often,” Bylsma said of the Blackhawks. “I think when the schedule comes out, even before you find out that it’s going to be an outdoor game, you find out that you’re playing the Blackhawks and you circle that as a big date on your calendar.
“Outdoor games are fun, but first and foremost, you’re playing the Blackhawks,” he added.
Bylsma also had complimentary words for Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, whom he coached during the Winter Olympics in Sochi earlier this month. Kane may have only had four assists and no goals in the tournament, but Bylsma was struck by the skill and mental make-up that Kane displayed on the ice.
“I would say that in having conversations with him prior to games, and even during the games, I learned quite a bit about his competitiveness,” he said. “You can see his smile and the skill with which he plays the game. I was impressed by the competitiveness he brings to the game. He’s got some nasty skill with the puck.
“Skillwise, when you see it live, you realize that he’s a ‘head-shaker.’ I call him that because when he pulls up and puts a pass on someone’s tape, you’ve got three or four guys shaking their head on the bench at how good he is,” he added with a laugh.
Despite his admiration for Kane and for the importance that he and the team are putting on the Stadium Series contest as a measuring stick, Bylsma also knows that there is the potential that he could end up over-coaching the game, and also recognizes that the elements (snow is in the forecast for the 7 p.m. puck drop at Soldier Field) could play a part in the way his team approaches the game.
“It needs to be a bit more of a simplified game and have a better expectation of what you are capable of executing and to just concentrate on doing that,” he said.
NBC Chicago will live stream a one-hour pre-game show ahead of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Soldier Field at 6 p.m. Saturday. Watch it here.