LCS Hockey: Born Again
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January 22, 2019
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Enough's Enough





Michel Therrien is a lot of things. Stubborn. Pigheaded. Incapable of pronouncing most plurals. One thing he isn't, however, is an NHL coach.

Another example of Therrien's coaching incompetence came after the Pittsburgh Penguins lost 4-3 in overtime to the New Jersey Devils Monday night. The Pens were enjoying a 3-1 third-period lead when Patrik Elias and David Clarkson scored less than two minutes apart to tie the game. Zach Parise won it for El Diablo in overtime, tipping an Elias shot behind Ty Conklin 37 seconds into the extra session.

It was a devastating loss for the Birds, who practically gift-wrapped two points for a division rival. And with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup, the Pens can't afford to give away points. Following the catastrophic collapse, Therrien had the following words of wisdom for his club.

"It's unacceptable to lose a hockey game like this," spat Therrien. "Unacceptable. A guy like Ryan Whitney, he's going to have to be more aggressive around the net. He's not aggressive at all. It cost us the game."

Yes, it was another masterstroke from the Machiavelli of motivation. After all, what better way to build team chemistry and foster a spirit of cooperation than to publicly humiliate one of the cornerstones of the franchise?

Admittedly, Whitney didn't have his best game against the Devils, and perhaps he was a bit soft on Clarkson's goal, getting caught watching the puck instead of taking the man. But that's the kind of thing a professional coach would point our behind closed doors or in a private one-on-one meeting with the player. Therrien, on the other hand, has never met an ignorant quote he couldn't mangle in front of the media. He has no qualms about publicly embarrassing his players. But why should he? He's used to humiliation. He makes an ass of himself each time he masquerades as an NHL coach.

Whitney's verbal flogging is only Therrien's latest crime against common sense. He's so bad, he's terrible. It's no secret the dressing room despises him, and with good reason. At one point or another, he's alienated everyone on the roster.

The season began with Therrien jerking around Marc-Andre Fleury, ripping him in the papers and riding the great Dany Sabourin for extended stretches of time. That's right, Dany Sabourin. He's very good.

Therrien's next target was Colby Armstrong, who's probably the most beloved Bird of them all. Armstrong is Crosby's best friend and incredibly popular with fans and teammates for his gritty, courageous play. That didn't stop Therrien from banishing Armstrong to the press box. Worse yet, he never even told Armstrong why he was benched. And he kept sitting him even though the Pens were floundering with a record of 9-11-3 at the time. The departure of Mark Recchi finally opened a spot for Armstrong, and the Pens have gone 20-8-2 since he returned to the lineup.

A superb minor-league coach, Therrien is the living embodiment of the Peter Principle. He worked his way up the ladder to a job he's incapable of performing. He has no ability whatsoever to handle star players. The more talent someone has, the more he seems to resent them.

Therrien's minor-league mentality equates every problem to a lack of effort. He has no concept of talent. How else can you explain his love affair with players like Sabourin, Rob Scuderi, and Michel Ouellet? He would rather take 20 stiffs and bully them into playing his beloved "system" than have to adapt his coaching style to skilled players.

Need proof? Kid Crosby averages 20:50 in ice time per game, ranking him 19th among NHL forwards. Evgeni Malkin averages 20:36 per game, placing him 22nd on the list. Neither one has ever played a full two minutes on the power play. By way of comparison, Martin St. Louis leads all forwards at 24:38 per game. Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Alfredsson, and Rod Brind'Amour all average at least two minutes more per game than Crosby. Even Shawn freakin' Horcoff (22:13) averages more ice time than Crosby. Shawn Horcoff!

But please, don't let Therrien's inability to handle talent take away from his other glaring inadequacies behind the bench. During Monday's loss to New Jersey, Therrien inexplicably called a timeout at 9:22 of the third period with the Pens leading 3-1. Brilliant decision. Elias scored 15 seconds later to start the comeback. Funny how Therrien didn't mention that in the postgame press conference.

Kris Letang has been a revelation. He's everything he was billed to be and more, combining effortless skating and pristine puck skills with a surprisingly strong defensive effort. Penguin fans couldn't wait to get his right-handed shot on the power play, envisioning him manning the left point and playing catch with either Whitney or Sergei Gonchar, leading to a barrage of one-timers. So, naturally, Therrien uses Letang at the right point on the second unit.

On January 21, the Penguins lost 6-5 to the Washington Capitals in a shootout. They had a golden opportunity to win the game in overtime, getting a two-man advantage for more than a minute. That's when Therrien worked his magic, employing Gonchar, Whitney, and Letang with Malkin and Petr Sykora. It was the first time all season the Pens used three defensemen on the power play. Predictably, they appeared confused and uncertain with the puck, failing to register even a single shot.

Ah, it's like a walk down Mistake Lane. Truth be told, I really don't even have a problem with Therrien anymore. He's proven to be an idiot He's a monkey dancing for my amusement. No, my concern is for Ray Shero. Therrien remaining as coach is either a scathing indictment against Shero's abilities as a general manager or a testament to his genius.

Shero can't possibly be dumb enough to believe Therrien is actually capable of winning a championship. I'm clinging to the hope he's merely manipulating Therrien into molding the team's young stars through suffering, using their shared hatred for the tyrannical despot to forge them into a cohesive unit capable of capturing a Cup. When he feels the team is ready to make its move, he'll fire Therrien, removing the one impediment to greatness and allowing his talented team to run free towards glory.

On Tuesday, the Penguins recalled Alex Goligoski from Wilkes-Barre. Goligoski is an offensive defensemen. Considering Therrien's tirade against Whitney's lack of physicality, it's doubtful the Pens will go into Thursday night's game against the Islanders with Whitney, Goligoski, Gonchar, and Letang in the lineup. Someone's going to sit. If Whitney gets the hook, it would seem to indicate Shero is supporting Therrien. It would also no doubt spark a riot in the Pittsburgh dressing room.

Therrien's handling of Whitney perfectly illustrates his inability to coach at the sport's highest level. He refuses to adjust to his talent, stubbornly insisting his talent adjust to him. Whitney is not a physical defenseman. It's not who he is. It's not what he does. Yet Therrien isn't scared to publicly humiliate Whitney, blaming him for the loss and drawing more attention to the obvious flaw in the 24-year-old's game. It's inexcusable.

Keep in mind, Whitney is the future of this franchise. When the Penguins are winning Stanley Cups, Whitney will be the team's No. 1 defenseman. He'll have an A on his sweater. And if there's any justice, Therrien will be watching the celebration from a minor-league bus somewhere in the middle of Saskatchewan.




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