Is Michel Therrien just an average coach?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: I wonder if I'm in the minority in my belief that Michel Therrien is just an average coach. His need to keep his foot glued to the gas pedal reminds of Mike Tomlin. There is no doubt that the secret to a long playoff run is to spread out the scoring. Every team has one good line. Each and every time the Pens get behind or lose a game, Therrien abandons any attempt to see if the Pens have anyone in their system to complement Sidney Crosby or even refuses to play the (third and fourth) lines, as evidenced by him only playing two lines in the third period against Montreal (last Saturday). These guys get tired, especially on a back-to-back situation. There is no way that the Pens can afford another rental player like Marian Hossa,; it would appear that the coach ought to look to more than Sid and Evgeni Malkin to do it every game.

Bruce, Hollidaysburg, Pa.

MOLINARI: Therrien certainly has his share of critics -- albeit surprisingly few, if any, inside the locker room -- and some of his coaching methods certainly invite second-guessing. The best example probably is the way he scrambles line combinations when units aren't productive after a relatively short time together. That's a cornerstone of Therrien's philosophy, but not an approach universally endorsed or practiced by his peers.

(There are, however, probably better ways to express disapproval of Therrien's work than to liken him to Tomlin, whose team earned the No. 2 seed in its conference despite facing a schedule that was generally regarded as the most difficult in the NFL going into the season.)

As for Therrien's reliance on Crosby and Malkin when the Penguins need a goal, or simply are trying to get their offense jump-started, there's no evidence that anyone else on his roster can be counted on to consistently generate offense, and it's not because no one else in the organization has been given an opportunity to prove they can be productive in those situations.

Fact is, Therrien's job would be a lot easier if the Penguins had the quality wingers needed to flesh out two or three lines, but they simply don't have the personnel at this point and really don't have the salary-cap space to change that without making major changes to other areas of their depth chart.

And while there is only so much that can be expected of Crosby and Malkin, the reality is that both are young, fit, exceptionally talented players who are capable of carrying a significantly larger workload than most players. There are reasons those two are being paid an average of $8.7 million per season; they are not ordinary players, and should not be used as such. Offensive balance and depth are great if you have them, but the Penguins don't, and as long as Therrien's mandate is to win as many games as possible, it's hard to fault him for trying to make the most of the assets he has.

Q: What happened to charging? It is never called anymore. Malkin is the victim of at least three every time we play the Caps. Alexander Ovechkin will skate nearly 100 feet at times to line him up. I love big hits, but lining a forward up to decapitate him isn't part of the game.

Ben Hoffman, Defiance, Ohio

MOLINARI: The NHL office issues a lot of directives to its officials, but there's no indication that one has gone out suggesting that referees look the other way when a charging infraction occurs. Consequently, responsibility for enforcing the rule the way it is written -- or blame for failing to do so -- continues to fall on the pair of referees working a particular game.

Ovechkin is an enthusiastic and effective hitter, and his willingness to throw his body around only enhances his entertainment value and importance to the Capitals. However, he often seems to cross the line into flat-out head-hunting when he's on the ice with Malkin, and it's hard to believe the league is eager to see one of its marquee players take out another with an illegal, even vicious, hit.

The Penguins probably benefit from Ovechkin spending so much time and energy trying to smear Malkin -- when he's doing that, he isn't focusing on scoring goals -- but it isn't unreasonable for them to expect the rules to be applied to him the way they are to other players. (And, as a side note, Russian hockey officials might want to try to negotiate some sort of truce between Ovechkin and Malkin before the 2010 Olympics, because that country's chances for a medal at the Games in Vancouver surely wouldn't be helped if its top two players are openly hostile toward one another.)


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