This is more like it. Only for Penguin fans, this can't be happening.
While there are many stats that can be thrown around to point out when describing the free-fall of the Pittsburgh Penguins lately, there is something else that every expert, fan, and even general manager, can't seem to wrap their arms around.
With fans screaming for coach Michel Therrien's head after a 20-17-4 first half, and with players talking over and over about paying attention to detail, this is the season that many experts believed the Penguins would have, especially after losing no fewer than seven veterans in the off-season.
But to blame Therrien for this mess is highly misguided. The defense of this team, save for Sergei Gonchar, is exactly the same as the stout defense that landed the Penguins near the top of the league in goals against last year. The goaltending still lies mostly on the shoulders of Fleury, who has seemingly stepped backwards a little this year, although he has kept the team in games many times. Sabourin has done well, at least as well as a backup should do. And the offense?
Well...see, there's the problem. Sure, Malkin is leading the league in scoring, and Crosby is close behind. But that is where it ends. While the Penguins did not necessarily have Hossa last year until late in the season, they still had plenty of grit in Ruutu and Malone, a grinder with decent hands in Laraque, and plug players like Hall and Roberts. The replacements are what general manager Ray Shero believed would fill the holes nicely. However, take a look at these names.
Petr Sykora, Pascal Dupuis, Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedetenko, Matt Cooke, and Eric Goddard are supposed to fill the shoes of a veteran, a fighter, and an outstanding winger named Hossa, along with the traffic in front of the net that Malone provided.
However, the first four players on that list are almost exactly the same caliber wingers, which is to say, they're mediocre. This is the first problem Therrien faces. How do you shake up lines when all the players are exactly the same, no matter where you move them?
Well, for one, Jordan Staal would make an excellent power forward for someone like Malkin, especially on the awful power play that has struggled lately to even be noticed. He could utilize his size in front of the net, and with his great hands and reach, could retrieve pucks behind the net and find someone like Malkin, creating the kind of cycling that the Penguins were so noted for next year. Who would go on that line with them? Well, as I said, it really doesn't matter which winger you chose, but Sykora and Malkin seem to have some chemistry together, so there's a line, even a power play if you so desire.
Next problem is that they have no veteran leadership on this team. Some players have admitted to not following Coach Therrien's leadership this season, and to be honest, why should they? Who's going to step up in the young player's faces in the locker room and say, "Listen to the coach"? Certainly not Gary Roberts or Mark Rechhi. If Ray Shero doesn't want to fire the coach, but doesn't want to make an explosive, risky trade, than try trading one of those fourth liners like Tim Wallace to a team looking to rebuild, and in return, get some fourth line guy at the end of his career, with lots of scars and grit to prove it.
The next problem is one sentence long. Eric Godard is no Georges Laraque. Laraque fought plenty, dropped everyone he met, and still managed to cycle, crash and bang below the opponent's goal line. He was a fan favorite, and Eric Godard is still trying just to fit in.
Which brings me to the final problem. Team chemistry. This may be the sole reason why Shero refuses to panic quite yet, as this room does not seem to be generating much love for each other. Sure Talbot, Kennedy, Crosby, Whitney, Orpik and Fleury still get along. But it seems the room is more of a clique of these players now rather than the family it seemed when Colby Armstrong, Eric Christiansen and Ryan Malone were still around. Maybe Shero is waiting for the room to gel, in hopes that the players will start standing up for one another the way they used to.
The point though, is this. Pittsburgh is a strange city to be a fan of sports in. When the Steelers fail, it's always the quarterback's fault. And when the Penguins fail, it's always the coach's fault. However, how often does the firing or cutting of these scapegoats pay off?
Only once in recent memory. When Eddie Olczyk was fired and replaced by a certain Michel Therrien.
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