Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't let the door hit you on the way out

Eight months ago, Michel Therrien was in the Stanley Cup Finals with an uber talented Penguins team. Today, he's unemployed. I never like to see anyone get forced out of his or her job, but the Penguins needed to do this. As I stated back in July when he was given a three-year contract extension, he was not going to lead this team to a championship. I made this statement on an extremely popular Penguins blog and verbally assaulted by a bunch of know-nothing yinzers that think hockey season starts in February. "Hey, Fruscello - stick with Fantasy Football!", "...stay home and ponder your NHL roster moves on your computer, rather than take an active interest in something that seems to be a bit out of your realm of expertise." Out of my expertise eh? The team has the top two scorers in hockey and is 10th in the Eastern Conference with a little less than two months left in the season. Maybe now all the dirty, lowbrow yinzers that jumped on me for saying that the Therrien contract extension was a mistake, will learn shut their mouths when a sports expert tells you like it is. Where are all the "Therrien's a great coach, what a great signing!" people now? Is 10th place where you want to be? Is the team scrambling to just make the playoffs what you want? Sorry, but it was painfully obvious that no matter how talented this team was, they were always going to be out coached and that they would need to rely on just their talent to win games.

Last year in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was very obvious what needed to be done. Therrien was outcoached very badly. His only strategy in that entire series was to complain about obstruction (aka stop letting the Red Wings defense shutdown my teams' offense). The team looked pretty good in Game 5, but as soon as Wings coach Mike Babcock changed the lines in the third period, Therrien had no answer. The Wings scored two goals, outshot the Pens 14-4 and nearly won the championship right there had it not been for Max Talbot's late heroics. Even though the shots were only 14-4, I can't ever remember seeing the ice tilted so badly in favor of one team.

Fair or unfair, I put the blame on Therrien. Several times, the Pens would get matched up against a lesser team with a good coach like the Islanders and lose. How can a team with so much talent lose to a bottom feeder? I'm not saying it's impossible, you'll have down games, but to consistenly struggle against teams with no talent, but good coaching, suggests there's a problem with the coaching. The deathblow finally came last Saturday when the Pens played in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are in a rebuilding process and a lot their guys are fighting for a roster spot. Who's their coach? Ron Wilson, a guy that knows how to get the most out of his players. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Penguins collapsed and gave up 6 unanwersed goals. Are you kidding me? Six?! To the Maple Leafs? That wasn't the first time they were gashed by the Leafs either. They gave up 7 on December 20th and 5 on January 31st. They gave up 6 goals to the Panthers on January 3rd. These are not exactly the best teams in hockey that's tearing them up here. On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes they have a hard time scoring goals. They were shutout by the Lightning on December 23rd, 2-0.

I don't want to hear Therrien fans complain about "Well Gonchar was gone and we lost Hossa, Malone, Roberts, etc". That's not an excuse. Lots of teams have turnover from year to year and they deal with it. They still have two of the best players in the game and your franchise goaltender. The Pens lost Hossa, but so what? They were already a pretty good team before he even showed up at the trade deadline last year. Roberts spent almost all of last season injured. Adam Hall was a 3rd or 4th line checker that spent most of last year as a scratch. Malone is missed, but you don't go from the best team in the conference to 10th because of Ryan Malone. Gonchar is the only real key component missing to this year's team and he would have helped on offense, but how much would he have really helped on defense, where they need the most help? Sure he was great last year, but the year before that he was a minus 5 and the year before that he was a minus 13. I don't see his presence making that much of a difference.

The Penguins appear to be headed for the unthinkable (missing the playoffs after reaching the Finals) and it has mostly to do with Michel Therrien. He makes bad decisions with line combinations and doesn't get the most out of his players. I was positive after the way the Pens were beaten by the Wings in the Finals, that they would've changed their style to be more like Detroit who play a puck possession style of game and rely a lot on their passing. With as many puck moving defenseman as the Pens have and with a great passer like Crosby, it just makes the most sense. Instead Therrien has them playing some sort of 1-2-2 trap that utilizes the talents of no one. I think this move comes too late, but at least someone in the Penguins front office woke up and realized what I already knew back in July, this team was never going to win a championship under Therrien.
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