PITTSBURGH (AP) - Dan Bylsma remembers when Consol Energy Center opened a couple years ago and the Pittsburgh Penguins struggled to get comfortable in their fancy new digs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins coach heard the clamoring for the team to pack up and head back across the street to the decidedly antiquated - though plenty intimidating - Igloo. He couldn’t miss the chatter about how the “House That Mario Built” was too posh for its own good.
It was all Bylsma could to stop from laughing.
“We’ve won a lot of hockey games after that two or three games to start that season,” he said Friday. “We haven’t played well here (this season) we’re going to win a lot of home games.”
They’ll get another chance at their first victory on home ice Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.
The Penguins are the only team in the NHL yet to record a point at home. They’ve been outclassed in losses to the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders, getting outscored 9-3. They’ve been punchless on the power play and pathetic on the penalty kill.
And yet this is the same team that has two wins at Madison Square Garden in the season’s first two weeks as well as road triumphs at Philadelphia and Ottawa. Pittsburgh shut down the New York Rangers 3-0 on Thursday night in a competent - though Bylsma insists far from perfect - victory in which the Penguins (4-3-0) sucked the life out of the Garden one smart play at a time.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping everything most to the outside defensively,” center Sidney Crosby said. “We played with a lot of speed, a lot of pace. I think as far as a complete game goes that was the best job we did.”
A style that plays in stark contrast to the sometimes sloppy game the Penguins have played at Consol. The Islanders torched Pittsburgh 4-1 on Tuesday night thanks in large part to 11 giveaways by the Penguins, two of which led directly to New York goals.
Bylsma has no plans on substituting the road jerseys in his players’ lockers against the Devils, and he doesn’t buy into the thought that home teams - particularly ones loaded with offensive talent like the Penguins - have to put on a show to get the crowd energized. Bylsma said that argument has almost “zero credibility.”
Given a choice, Bylsma figures fans want to see winning hockey, regardless of style points. He pointed to Pittsburgh’s highly entertaining play at the end of last season as proof. The Penguins ended the regular season with a 21-3 push at home.
“I think very much we’re still finding exactly what our best game looks like and what we need to play like as opposed to a team that had most goals for last 20 games last year and also had a lot of goals against,” Bylsma said. “That’s not necessarily a team that did well in the playoffs with that mentality. (Thursday) was a start. We’re building. We’ve got to build that trust and belief.”
The Devils (3-0-3) gave up three goals while opening with three victories, but have had some defensive breakdowns in three post-regulation losses this week. After allowing three power-play goals in their opponents’ 26 opportunities through five games, New Jersey gave up three in four chances - including the overtime winner - in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Islanders.
“We didn’t deserve to win,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We didn’t play well enough to win. We lost the special teams battles. We lost the faceoff battle. I said before, you get what you deserve in this game. We had some opportunities to win, but we didn’t play well enough to earn two points.”
Both Pittsburgh and New Jersey earned six points in this series last season. The Penguins won the final two meetings 5-2 - the only ones Crosby was healthy for - with their captain totaling a goal and four assists.
While the Devils will want to focus on slowing Crosby - Pittsburgh is 2-11-1 when Crosby fails to record a point against New Jersey - the Penguins would love to find an answer for Ilya Kovalchuk The winger had four goals, seven assists and a plus-5 rating in last season’s series, recording multiple points in each Devils win.
While Bylsma thinks his team may have found something against the Rangers, the search for a winger to put alongside Malkin and Neal continues. Newcomer Zach Boychuk will get his chance on Saturday. The Penguins claimed Boychuk off waivers on Thursday and Bylsma plans to throw the former first-round pick into the mix to see if the speedy Boychuk can mesh with his two higher profile linemates.
The 23-year-old Boychuk has seven goals in 73 career games, the first of which came against Martin Brodeur three years ago. Playing alongside the reigning MVP and an All-Star is pretty heady territory. He figures he’s got nothing to lose.
“Any time you’re in the NHL, there’s eyes on you and you’ve got to perform,” he said. “For me to jump into a game (Saturday), I think that’s the best way to do it. I don’t want to be waiting and anxious.
“I want to get right into it.”
Beating Brodeur this time may not be so easy. The future Hall of Famer is 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in his last six starts in Pittsburgh.
Three of those starts have aligned with Marc-Andre Fleury who is 5-1-0 with a 1.49 GAA in his past six games with New Jersey in town.