Sidney Crosby’s only Stanley Cup came with Dan Bylsma behind the bench for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bylsma is back in Pittsburgh for the first time since being fired, and he’s bringing another budding young superstar.
Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres will try to give their coach a happy homecoming and end a six-game slide against the Penguins on Thursday night.
Crosby is considered the best player of his generation, but his lone title came as a 21-year-old in 2009. That came after Bylsma took over for the fired Michel Therrien midway through the season.
Bylsma went on to win a franchise-record 252 games, but he and Crosby never got back to the finals over the next five seasons. He was fired after losing to the New York Rangers in seven games in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals.
After taking a season off since he was still under contract with the Penguins (5-4-0), Bylsma was hired by the Sabres (3-6-0) and tasked with turning around the moribund franchise and nurturing Eichel – the second overall pick in last summer’s draft.
"They’ll be emotions," he said. "I don’t know exactly if emotional means I’m not going to be moved to tears but it’s going to be emotional. I look at the empty seats, I’m going to know 50 faces in the stands; where they sit. I know where my family sat. There’s certainly going to be some emotions."
He’ll also try to lead Buffalo to back-to-back victories for the first time this season. Zemgus Girgensons scored midway through overtime in Tuesday’s 4-3 win at Philadelphia.
"We’re learning how to win as a group," Bylsma said. "We’re developing a team and how we want to play."
Eichel is vital to that. The center, who turned 19 on Wednesday, is tied with Tyler Ennis and Ryan O’Reilly with a team-high three goals. However, he’s yet to score in three road games.
Crosby, meanwhile, is off to his worst start to a season with three points in nine games. He got them all in a 3-2 overtime victory over Florida on Oct. 20 and has failed to register a point in three games.
The star center has 45 points in 28 career matchups with the Sabres, collecting 18 in 12 at home. That’s a big reason why the Penguins (5-4-0) have outscored the Sabres 25-3 while winning six straight meetings.
Pittsburgh is withstanding Crosby’s season-opening slump, winning five of six games after beating Washington 3-1 on Wednesday behind Marc-Andre Fleury’s 33 saves – 14 in the second period.
"The more shots he sees, the better he plays," right wing Beau Bennett said. "We can’t do that every night, but he was definitely our best player and kept us in it, even when they had those flurries in the second period."
Fleury has started every game for Pittsburgh this season and has a 1.50 goals-against average in the last six.
He’s compiled a 1.79 GAA while winning 16 of his last 19 starts against Buffalo, but it’s unclear if he’ll start in the Penguins’ first set of games on consecutive days this season.
That could mean backup Jeff Zatkoff will make his season debut. He’s 12-7-2 with a 2.58 GAA in 21 games – 18 starts – over the last two seasons.