It's Time I Gave Props To Michel Therrien

Nicholas CaseCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2009

For several articles running, I've given nothing but flak to Michel Therrien for his stubborn coaching style which no longer fits the team he has control over. 

Rumors were starting to swirl of his imminent demise after a 7-12-1 run since December first had knocked the talented and near the cap limit Pittsburgh Penguins out of playoff contention.

After back-to-back 5-3 losses to Western Conference teams, the Avalanche and the Predators (blowing a 3-0 lead against Nashville), the heat was rising upon the seat that Therrien resided.  A two game swing against their biggest rivals, the Flyers and Capitals, could mean the end to Mikey T.

Tuesday night seemed to start the same way, a fluky goal scored by Mike Knuble off of a bad bounce when Fleury went to play the puck seemed to make Penguins' fans sign and say, "More of the same..."  Then something amazing happened:

Michel Therrien showed he had another dimension.

For the next 32 minutes of game time, until the third, the Penguins played a 1-2-2 trapping system wherein the center will pressure the puck carrier while the wingers wait behind the center in the neutral zone and the defense wait by the blue line to stop who ever make go by the center and wingers. 

This worked out perfectly for the Pens, who no longer had the players to lug the puck up the ice from one zone to the other under Therrien's 1-4 system.  The result?  The Penguins out shot the Flyers in that time 22-15 and outscored them 4-1.  After the second, the Penguins went back to the 1-4 and were promptly out shot 14-4.

Now I'm far from ready to say that I'm still happy with Therrien behind the bench.  There are reports directly from the Penguins website of Michel Therrien being talked to by Mario Lemieux during practice in the days prior to the Flyers game, something Mario normally doesn't do. 

This leads to widely believed speculation that Mario told and taught coach Therrien how to run and execute the 1-2-2.

Also, the next big step is whether or not Therrien will continue to run the new system.  The Flyers were not expecting the Penguins to come out and run the trap.  The Capitals, whom they play tonight, will be expecting this. 

If the trap does not work out right away, will Therrien abandon it like he does so many line combinations that don't show chemistry within a few shifts?

Either way, it's a long road ahead for the Pittsburgh Penguins to even simply make the playoffs.  If a minimum of 92 points gets you in to the tournament, the Penguins at 46 points, need to win 23 of their remaining 38 games.  It's a big order to fill and hopefully the change from Therrien will help things. 

For the Pens and their fans, adjustments from Michel Therrien may be too little too late, but only time will tell.