You don't have to be a great hockey analyst to figure out something is wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The team stormed through the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, losing only twice, has seemingly disappeared. The current edition of the Penguins haven't won two games in a row since a swing in early November when they won six straight. Since that streak the Penguins have struggled, falling out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference. Last year's conference champions have lost seven of their last eight and are now in danger of missing the playoffs.
Perhaps the reason for the Penguins' fall is standing right behind them.
Coach Michel Therrien has been with the Pittsburgh Penguins since December 2005. By all statistical measurement he has been successful. He took the last place team in the Eastern Conference and brought them back to the Stanley Cup playoffs by the next season. The season after that they were competing for the Cup.
The problem this season is that Michel Therrien's system isn't working.
Therrien is not an 'Xs and Os' kind of coach. He doesn't draw up elaborate plays or spend too much time trying to match lines. Therrien's style is to implement a strong forecheck and cycle. He wants his teams to grind for pucks along the boards and head for the net to jam in loose pucks. That style is why the Pittsburgh Penguins have been successful.
But this year the team is not following his style. They are not fighting for loose pucks. They are not creating traffic around the net. They are not generating chances with a their forechecking.
Some would say that the roster changes in the offseason are the cause of the team's decline.
During the offseason the Penguins lost several key players. Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Ty Conklin, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Adam Hall, and Jarko Ruutu all call other arenas home now. In their place the Penguins, a team very close to hitting the salary cap, signed Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Cooke, Eric Godard, Mike Zigomanis, and others. Injuries, especially ones to Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, have also hampered the Penguins' season.
But the roster changes are not the reason for the Penguins' great fall. The team battled with injuries last year, as Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury missed significant time, and they managed to get even stronger despite their depleted roster.
Many point to the loss of Marian Hossa as the reason for the team's struggles. But Hossa only came to the team at the trade deadline last year. Due to an injury he didn't play with the team until mid-March. By that point the Penguins were already well on their way to a successful season.
The problem is that this year's Penguin team is not playing like last year's Penguin team.
They don't work hard, they don't play the system that has brought them success, and therefore they struggle.
This is Michel Therrien's fault for a few reasons. Either:
A) He's not motivating the team to play his system,
B) He's not adjusting his system to suit the current strengths of the team,
C) He's not explaining the system properly,
D) He's not managing his roster in a way that rewards those who play his system and punishes those who don't, or
E) The players don't want to play his system.
Whatever the reason, he is not being effective. He has lost the ability to motivate and communicate with his team. Either the players are not listening to him or he is not listening to his players.
Unfortunately, I think the time has come for Michel Therrien and the Pittsburgh Penguins to part ways.
Rick M. currently writes about the Pittsburgh Penguins at PenguinsExperience.com