Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, Penguins' Dan Bylsma share respect
PITTSBURGH -- A second-round playoff series might not be the right time to begin a mutual admiration society. But this season's Olympic break afforded Penguins coach Dan Bylsma a chance to see Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh up close as part of the U.S. Olympic squad that finished fourth in Sochi.
It also was a chance for McDonagh to see what has made Bylsma so successful with the Penguins.
Now Bylsma is trying to figure out how to get Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin free from McDonagh -- and Marc Staal, who was the best defenseman on the ice in Game 1 -- and McDonagh is trying to keep putting solid efforts together after a shaky start to the postseason.
Bylsma certainly was familiar with McDonagh before the defenseman joined the U.S. team. John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault both sent out McDonagh to try to contain Crosby during the Rangers-Penguins regular-season games during the past three seasons, with varying results. Crosby had a goal and five assists in this season's four meetings and seven assists in the six games Crosby played against the Rangers during his injury-plagued 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
"We've played quite a bit against him the last couple years, but I guess I learned that [he's] legit," Bylsma said of McDonagh. "Maybe his offensive ability and his skill, his offensive hockey sense is something I saw a little bit more coaching him. He gets credit for being a great defender, a shutdown guy, blocking shots. But his offensive hockey sense, on the power play, is better than he gets credit for. He has that knack and ability to be involved in the rush or in the offensive zone."
Bylsma leaned on McDonagh in Sochi just as much as the Rangers do, pairing him with Ryan Suter to stymie Russia's and Canada's top lines -- which had Malkin and Crosby on them, of course.
McDonagh got a small taste of Bylsma's coaching approach.
"He's a very easygoing guy," McDonagh said. "He definitely trusts his team to create and take on its own identity. He's really good with the details like faceoffs, little points of the game, and you can see that in the way the Penguins play."
The questions about Crosby's 12-game playoff goal drought persisted Saturday. He had five shot attempts in Game 1 and just about set up a late winner. McDonagh and Dan Girardi converged on Crosby in the waning seconds, leaving Lee Stempniak open for a shot that Henrik Lundqvist turned aside with 12 seconds to go in regulation.
But Crosby was on the ice for all three Rangers goals. "They want the game decided by Sidney Crosby scoring a goal, and that hasn't been the case," Bylsma said of the dissatisfied Pittsburgh fans. "Those questions are going to come about all of us, and from that standpoint, I can understand them."
McDonagh will try to have a say in Sunday night's Game 2. The Staal-Anton Stralman pairing was even more effective against Crosby than the McDonagh-Girardi combo, but it still is the Rangers' No. 27 who gets the heavy minutes against the Penguins' No. 87.
And now Bylsma has first-hand knowledge of just how good McDonagh can be.
"You definitely know what he can do when you see him on the ice," said Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, who also was on the U.S. team. "When you put on the same sweater as him, it's almost more impressive. There isn't much missing from his game."