Bylsma downplays the suggestion that he has a sixth sense for when a role player is “due.” Whenever he shakes things up, it’s more based on scouting and matchups than gut instinct. Of course, there’s also the simple luxury of having guys battling for time on the fourth line who would be top-six forwards elsewhere.
“We have good players that are not in the lineup,” Bylsma said. “When we inserted (Vitale) into the first-round series, his skill set ... his speed was something we thought we needed, and he made an immediate impact when he came into that series.”
Still, it did little to ensure more playing time for Vitale. He sat out the final three games of the Ottawa series while Bylsma went with the likes of Jokinen, a better two-way player and an experienced faceoff man.
Vitale didn’t let the benching bother him. Maybe because it didn’t feel like a benching. He understands Bylsma’s job is to win the Stanley Cup, not to make Vitale feel better. Some games, that means Vitale will be in the lineup. Others, it means he’ll wear a nice suit and watch from the top of the arena.
“It’s just a different atmosphere,” Vitale said. “You’re just pulling for the guy next to you. If Jussi goes in for me, I’m sitting up above and I really want him to be at the very best he can be. When you win and you’re in the locker room and you’re not sweating, you’re just as happy as the guys who are. That’s just the kind of environment it is right now.”
Jokinen and Morrow both came over in trade deadline deals meant to bolster the Penguins for a Cup run. Jokinen recorded 11 points in 10 games while filling in on the top line for Crosby at the end of the regular season as Crosby recovered from a broken jaw.