Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

06/06/2008

Penguins Are Fans of the Trapezoid

Filed under: Brooks Orpik,Michel Therrien,Pittsburgh Penguins — Joe Yerdon @ 10:03 AM

I had no idea that some Pittsburgh Penguins players were big fans of my writing. A snippet from the Toronto Sun from this morning:

Brooks Orpik, the free agent defenceman who will be coveted by many teams after
July 1, has told people he will not re-sign in Pittsburgh if Therrien is the
coach. Jordan Staal, the terrific young player who lives in the shadow of Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin — but is poised to bust out as one of the most complete
centres in hockey — is another Therrien complainer.

I say they’re paying attention here because after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I called out to the Penguins saying that keeping Michel Therrien on board to coach a young team and then providing the example that crying to officials and complaining is the way to go was the exact opposite of what the Penguins need to become world beaters.

Now word comes out that, indeed, there is a faction of players in the Pittsburgh locker room who are less-than-thrilled with the coaching work of Michel Therrien.

Make no mistake here, if Pittsburgh is able to return to the Finals next season, they’ll be doing it with close to an entire new roster. The Pens have a lot of guys hitting free agency and at least two of them are going to get big pay days (Marian Hossa and Brooks Orpik). Considering that Pittsburgh has to contend with having a boatload of younger talent that will require big deals at some point in the near future, there’s potential to see this Finals team getting, for all intents and purposes, blown up.

Make no mistake, Ray Shero is a good and shrewd general manager – and I don’t mean that in the, “He’s dirt cheap and cuts corners to make things happen” kind of way – but he’s got his hands full and more in having to deal with this.

Take a look at the list of free agents on the Penguins roster – the important ones anyhow:

Restricted Free Agents

  • Marc-Andre Fleury

Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Marian Hossa
  • Pascal Dupuis
  • Ty Conklin
  • Mark Eaton
  • Adam Hall
  • Georges Laraque
  • Ryan Malone
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Gary Roberts
  • Jarkko Ruutu

In a word: YIKES!

You’re looking at both goaltenders (Fleury and Conklin), three top wingers (Malone, Hossa, Dupuis), two big defensemen (Orpik and Eaton – Eaton missed a large part of the season with injury and is infinitely better than Rob Scuderi), and a pack of role players (Ruutu, Roberts, Laraque, Hall). Worse yet, they still have Darryl Sydor still under contract at $2.5 million dollars – and he didn’t play in the playoffs until part of the way into the Cup Finals and it wasn’t because of injury.

Some of them will stay, obviously, it’s not as if they’re all going to leave – but you’re looking at a team that is very likely going to have to change some big parts and the dynamics of the team. That’s a lot to ask out of your GM and its even more to ask out of your head coach and I don’t know that I’d be one to trust an overhauled team with a guy who seems to lose his head and focus so easily like Michel Therrien.

Change is in the air in Pittsburgh in a big way and this is just the start.

06/01/2008

Game 4: Suffocation — Detroit wins 2-1

Pittsburgh scored first.

Marian Hossa stuffs one in on the power play and gets the Igloo rocking.

Up to this point in the playoffs, that meant “GAME OVER” in Pittsburgh. After all, Pittsburgh hadn’t lost at home since December, or at least that’s how it seemed. They hadn’t lost there in the playoffs yet.

Scoring first was always what a team needed to clinch a victory. Swing the pressure to the other team. Make them press, make them make mistakes.

Less than five minutes later, Nicklas Lidstrom rips a shot from the point that zips past Marc-Andre Fleury and all momentum is gone. It’s essentially 0-0 all over again. Next goal could be the one that swings the game. They play through the remainder of the first, playing even, Detroit resisting the Pittsburgh power play, shutting them down and learning from their early mistake in the period.

Next goal swings the tide. Has to.

Second period begins and plods along. The obstruction that Pens coach Michel Therrien has been complaining about is running rampant all over the ice. From both teams.

No one wants to make the big mistake – they all know that the next goal is the big one. The referees are content to let the teams play it out. Each team gets one power play opportunity in the second, both come highly questioned, especially considering everything else that was let go.

“Play through it boys, we’re not deciding this one for you,” was probably heard on the ice from a zebra at one point. The irony of the statement is not lost on this guy, but that’s neither here nor there. The second period plods along. Shots were even, the score is even.

The third period of a tie game in a Game 4 that essentially decides the direction of the series. A Penguins win and it becomes a best of three series. Anything can happen. Any momentum shift can alter the path of the series. One bad goal can change everything. One turnover can do it all.

A funny thing happens early in the third period. Brooks Orpik looks to clear the puck up the boards to teammate Gary Roberts. The puck gets away from Roberts and hops on the stick of Brad Stuart who quickly gets the puck to Darren Helm who then finds Jiri Hudler who wheels, fires a backhand that gets past Marc-Andre Fleury.

2-1 Detroit.

Game over, right? Not so fast…

Halfway through the third, Wings forward Kirk Maltby gets busted for hooking. Pittsburgh to the power play. Hang on to your seats kids, this could decide the game. The Pens dump into the zone and Sid the Kid is hot after it. Andreas Lilja does what Michel Therrien has been crying about all Finals long and gets in Sid’s way as he’s trying to get the puck in the corner. Another penalty.

A five-on-three power play for nearly 1:30. It’s not a question of will this game be tied but a question of when will it get tied.

A minute into the power play, Pittsburgh is pressing hard, Zetterberg is torturing them, Lidstrom and Kronwall are holding down the fort down low. The puck hops into the crowd. There’s still another 30 seconds or so on the 5×3 and another 30 of 5×4 power play time.

Michel Therrien wants a timeout.

Let’s go over this again. The attacking team, the team on the power play, the team that can virtually change lines at will while the killing team has to sit there and take it and desperately hope to get a hold of it to make a change.

The Penguins want a time out to rest their attackers to keep them on the ice. Missing the point here, Therrien also gave time for the big three to rest up for Detroit.

Play resets, Malkin fumbles the puck at the blue line and Zetterberg takes it away and gets a shot off while killing a 5×3 power play. The 5×3 goes away and Maltby returns to the ice. 30 seconds later, Andreas Lilja is hopping out of the box and jumping into the play to help block a shot.

Attack over.

Game over.

Detroit wins 2-1.

For everything Michel Therrien will be remembered for in this Cup Finals, none of them will be good, unless Pittsburgh can rattle off three wins in a row, which seems highly unlikely at this point. Therrien will be remembered as the guy who rather than scheme up a plan to counter what the Red Wings do, opted to complain often and loudly during and after the game that the Red Wings were playing hockey the old, ugly way. Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett apparently all missed this in their series with Detroit this year – but Therrien throws out this blind dart in hoping that the officials will buy into it and give his team the offensive advantage by putting them on the power play more.

Even worse yet, by taking this stand he’s made it OK for his team to take this attitude onto the ice. Some folks are confusing this with entitlement, that the Penguins were the chosen ones and that all would fall down before them.

I’m not buying this at all. I think that Pittsburgh had such an easy and golden road through the Eastern Conference, only needing to stop for bumps in the road, ever so slight as they were, with the punchless Rangers and the gutless Flyers. They had it in their minds that the whole way was going to be this easy.

Therrien’s complaining and whining have been destructive for his team. His bad attitude and “woe is me” routine has poisoned this team in this series. Watching last night’s game was an exercise in “How not to conduct yourself on ice.” Every whistle, every call, every face-off you could see a Pittsburgh player or Therrien barking at a linesman or referee – yelling, complaining about…something. Even when Pittsburgh was getting the majority of the calls their way, someone was yelling about something. It’s impossible to name names at this point to find the worst offenders, but this is the hell that Therrien hath wrought upon his players.

It’s not entitlement, it’s just frustration – and a highly frustrated coach leading a team full of young, highly frustrated players is a recipe for whining. Baby can’t have the bottle so baby is going to yell to mommy.

Hockey isn’t about whining. Never has, never will. It’s about looking hardship in the face, spitting in its face and saying, “Up yours – I’m doing this the way I know how to need to win.”

It’s tough to say that you want to run a guy out of town after he takes his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, but these finals have shown me that Michel Therrien is the absolute wrong guy to take the Pittsburgh Penguins into the future.

He’s certainly not Glen Sather, who in the same position with a similarly young and talented team in the early 1980s, was able to take his lumps against the New York Islanders and use that as a building block to take the league over. I don’t recall ever seeing Glen Sather hitting the press and setting a bad example for Gretzky and Messier and Kurri. Given what Michel Therrien has shown here, he can only lead this young bunch to more bad habits. There are some good coaches out there waiting to be hired right now that would suit this team a lot better. It might behoove the Penguins to make a move once the series is over and should the Penguins, indeed, lose out to get Therrien out of there and get someone who can mold this team better for the future.

05/27/2008

Game 2: All Aboard for Uglytown — Detroit wins 3-0

I took notes on Game 2.

In my head, not on paper, I’m not that much of a nerd – and since I write online, I’m clearly not a journalist nor a professional.

So you’ll get this in stream of consciousness format – and it’ll look about as ugly as the Penguins have all throughout this series.

Game 2 saw Pittsburgh start following yours truly’s tips for victory, namely this little piece of information. Quoth me:


Pittsburgh’s plan of attack here has to be to push, pressure and force the
issue. Make Detroit get back on their heels and defend, to throw the puck at the
net and keep control of it themselves. Sounds like I’m talking out of both sides
of my mouth here, I know, but Dallas and Nashville both saw their greatest
success against Detroit when they forced the issue. While Nashville’s success
almost has to be given an asterisk since that came against current bench jockey
goaltender Dominik Hasek, the fact is they went after Detroit to score.

At about the 10 minute mark of the second period, the Penguins snapped out of the hypnotist-induced fog and started to forecheck aggressively and go after anyone in a Red Wings uniform. This was a positive thing. It’s one of the few positive things you can take out of a game that saw the Penguins not score for the second straight Stanley Cup Finals game. It saw frustration already starting to bubble over from Penguins players, namely Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik and crotchety old man Gary Roberts, likely still ticked off about being a healthy scratch in Game 1.

Go ahead, just ask him about that, he’ll expound at great length about it.

The fact that the end of the game saw things unfold the way it did shows that Pittsburgh’s road to the Finals may have, in fact, been too cushy. Ottawa was a broken down and mentally challenged first round opponent. The New York Rangers were a scoring-handicapped team with one semi-rejuvinated superstar playing the wing and a key pain-in-the-ass out of the lineup. The Flyers were a more physical version of the Rangers sans an aging superstar. Pittsburgh faced little to no adversity along the way. None of those three teams offered any sort of offensive push nor any talent for passing or delivering the body.

Enter Detroit.

This also takes me back to something else I said in that now Kreskin-like Cup Preview piece I wrote. More from me:


If Pittsburgh does indeed decide to pile into their zone defensively and
rely on blocking shots and trying to stop Detroit at the blueline…they’re
going to spend a lot of time waiting for Detroit to just give up the puck to
them on a dump in or turnover. This series won’t last quite so long.

Pittsburgh is trying to play Detroit’s game…except that Detroit is better at it than anyone.

Period.

Worse yet for Pittsburgh, most, if not all, of Detroit’s power comes from their defensemen to set things up. No forecheck, no aggressive play = Detroit’s defense getting to play quarterback behind the greatest offensive line ever assembled. They’ve had all day to wait things out, to regroup, to gather…to get the forwards cycling again through the neutral zone and forward to attack. Detroit hasn’t really had to dump the puck in and chase it, not while the forwards are carving holes through the Pittsburgh defense and getting in behind those Penguins defensemen on the dump-ins.

Games 1 and 2 have certainly been a “Worst Case Scenario” for Pittsburgh. Worse yet, Penguins leadership refuses to accept this as fact.


Well, honestly, I truly believe the first game, our young team was
really nervous. We fell behind early in the game yesterday, and this is a
team that it’s tough to generate offense with the obstruction that they’re
doing.

But you know what, they’re doing it the right way. It’s like
there’s a dotted line. Sometimes they’ll cross it a little bit. And that
goes with experience. It’s tough to generate offense. And you need to score
dirty goals. The tic‑tac‑toe play, sometimes it’s going to happen. But most
of the time you’re going to put the puck at the net, and you’re going to
crash the net.

These quotes come from Penguins coach Michel Therrien – they’re far subdued compared to how fired up he was immediately after Game 2:


It’s really tough to generate offense against that team. They’re good on
obstruction. It’s going to be tough to generate any type of offense, if the
rules remain the same. So it’s the first time we’re facing a team that the
obstruction is there, and we’re having a hard time skating to take away ice.

We took two penalties tonight on the goalie. We never take penalty to
the goalie in the playoff. I’ll tell you something, I reviewed those plays.
He’s a good actor. He goes to players, and he’s diving. Took away our power
play. Got to get focused. I know our players are frustrated right now. It’s
tough to play the game. But Osgood did the same thing against Dallas under
Ribeiro.

Frustration I understand. It’s tough not to be frustrated with how badly Pittsburgh is being shut down by Detroit. The reasons for their failure in this series were not even mentioned at all by Therrien, however.

Nowhere did he accept blame for only playing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for 18 minutes a piece in Game 1. You know those two guys, right? The two best players on the ice for the Penguins whenever they set foot on it. You know….those guys. At no point does he offer up reasons for his team’s failure to muster a shot on goal for the first 12 minutes of Game 2, nor does he talk about his team’s inability to score on the power play.

Instead, we’re treated to petulant excuses about how the Red Wings are playing hockey like that of the Devils in the 1990s (which they’re not) and about how Chris Osgood’s diving show is ruining the sport. It’s silly, but the two times he’s flopped have come either at the end of the game, like against Dallas or last night when Petr Sykora legitimately ran into him. These complaints do the job to fire up the fans in Pittsburgh and get the talking heads rambling about these supposed issues, however it does nothing to find answers for the problems the Penguins are having.

Osgood falling down on the ice with under a minute to play didn’t decide the game one way or another. Detroit playing keep-away with the puck sure as hell frustrates Penguins players and fans alike but the only way to fix that is pressure the puck carriers like crazy. Tiring job? You bet it is – but if you want your name on the Stanley Cup in couple of weeks, you better believe you should do it.

Instead, Therrien is playing the “woe is me” card to the press and using the media to beg for more calls to be made against Detroit. I’m having a hard time coming up with the appropriate historical figure or fictional character to describe him. No, wait, I’ve got a good one…

It’s not my fault! They told me they fixed it!

I’m not sure that I’d want to set the whining standard for my still very young superstars to take witness of.

All of this petulance from Therrien does no service to his guys on the ice. They’re working hard, they’re just being outworked and outplayed.

Referees aren’t costing them the games, poor planning and adjustment making is.

That said, the goals stay the same for Pittsburgh – pressure the hell out of Detroit and get on the board first. The scoreless streak means nothing once the game starts. If Osgood starts coming up with miraculous saves, the psychological hold over the Penguins will be in full force. The coach and some of the players already think he’s a diving creep and none of that stuff has had an effect on the game.

For those of you thinking Osgood flopped when Ryan Malone ran into him while on the Pittsburgh power play, good luck convincing anyone that Ryan Malone seemed to know anything at all of what he was doing in Game 2 – he was thoroughly abysmal and took three terrible minor penalties and the mix-up with Osgood was legitimate.

Instead of whining to the press, Michel Therrien would be better suited breaking out a bullwhip and a cattle prod in practice – these Penguins need a major league wake-up call to just stay in these games with Detroit.

Detroit, on the other hand, if you’re going to pick on something they’re not doing well the power play is it. They’re 1-out-of-14 on the power play and while they’ve had some solid efforts, they’ve only got one goal to show for it.

Improved defensive play and smoothness from Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja (filling in for a wonky-kneed Chris Chelios) are tall orders, but would help Detroit to become a thorough and flawless 20-man wrecking crew – but asking for those things in Detroit is pure greed at this point.

A Detroit win in Game 3 and it becomes a question of whether Pittsburgh wins one for pride in Game 4 or plummets into the tank completely. A Pittsburgh win will again tweak the resolve of Detroit and instill some confidence into a team that is in clear psychological disarray.

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