Saturday, March 1, 2008

An ode to Michel Therrien

In our estimation, few head coaches in all of sports have it worse than Michel Therrien. Before you scoff, consider that almost always incoming GM's get "their guy" to be the coach. And since Therrien's stint has preceded Ray Shero's term as general manager, he isn't Shero's "guy". Therrien just hasn't messed up enough to get fired yet.

Furthermore, whenever the Penguins do well the credit goes to all the players. After all, with superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as a very talented supporting cast like Petr Sykora, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Malone, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal, how can any coach not produce a win in a given night? To say nothing of the expectations now that Marian Hossa is a Penguin.

Whether or not Therrien shuffles lines, is stubborn, uses the wrong goalie, doesn't play a certain guy enough or relies on someone too much, it mattes little....Therrren receives almost no credit from fans at-large when times are good, and absorbs much more of the criticism then deserved when the team loses.

Which brings us to this great article in the PG about a strenuous practice on Friday. For his faults, Therrien knows how to push buttons. Witness how he called out Whitney--a guy he has been around long enough in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh to know what to do--and the player responded with 2 goals and an assist the following game. Coincidence? Don't bet on it.

In Friday's practice, to make his point, Therrien singled out a player he knows the best on the team...One he coached in the juniors to a championship. And now he's no less than the baddest man in the NHL, Mr. Georges Laraque.

Although his message was team-wide, Therrien seemed to single out Georges Laraque, and toward the end of the session directed the winger to do cross ice sprints along the center red line.

"We want Georges to move his feet a little better," was the only explanation Therrien gave.

Laraque quietly took a few questions afterward, mostly offering yes or no answers, but indicated the sprints could be a way to make up for low ice time. He has not topped eight minutes the past four games.

BGL's stat line in the past 18 games: 0 goals, 0 assists and a +/- of -3. Obviously he's not playing a lot of minutes a game and is not counted on for offensive production in the first place. Laraque has done some good work cycling the puck with his linemates; but it's clear the message sent wasn't just directed at him, but rather at the entire team. Remain focused at all times, don't take anything for granted and be prepared to come out working your ass off every single minute of every game from here on out.

This message needed to be sent because not only have the Penguins gone 1-1-2 in their past four games but that one win they allowed 52 shots against them. With all the built in excuses (injuries, trades, etc) this team needed a little reminder that they have no choice but to come out and give their #1 effort every night. Just because everyone (including this blog) has now dubbed the Pens the team to beat in the East, it doesn't mean they will even make it to the playoffs without winning some more.

Since they're professionals, it shouldn't be a surprise that Therrien's message has been received loud and clear...

"It's kind of good to get our butt kicked."--[Ryan Malone]

The boys have responded every time this season when adversity has reared it's head, be it through injuries or a losing streak.....Let's see how they can respond to the latest challenge handed down from their stern taskmaster.

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