Shero says he won't fire Therrien or break up Penguins' core

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Penguins have sputtered through the first 16 games of this season, and it remains to be seen what, if anything, general manager Ray Shero is going to do about it.

Shero has made it quite clear what he won't do.


SCOUTING REPORT
  • Matchup: Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 7:08 p.m. today, Wachovia Center.
  • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Biron for Flyers.
  • Penguins: Have gone 6-3-2 in past 11 visits to Philadelphia. ... Are 4-0-1 when Petr Sykora scores goal. ... Power play is 1 for 13 in past two games.
  • Flyers: Defeated Penguins, 3-1, Wednesday at Mellon Arena. ... Own 125 victories against Penguins, most of any NHL club. ... Have allowed just one goal in 17 short-handed situations on home ice.
  • Hidden stat: Flyers have alternated losses and victories for past eight games.

He won't fire coach Michel Therrien.

He won't replace Marc-Andre Fleury as the team's No. 1 goalie.

He won't tear apart the nucleus of his club or abandon his blueprint for developing it into a perennial contender.

Simply put, Shero won't panic and make knee-jerk decisions simply because the Penguins, 7-8-1 going into their game against Philadelphia tonight at the Wachovia Center, have not performed the way many people believed they would.

"You have to have some patience if you have some sort of plan," Shero said.

His plan has been in place since he was hired to replace Craig Patrick in May 2006; the overblown expectations for his team have not. Those are a byproduct of the Penguins' 47-point improvement, one of the largest in league history, in 2006-07.

At this time a year ago, having a .500 team would have been viewed as a dramatic step forward. Now, some see even flirting with the break-even mark as a disaster, not merely a disappointment.

"Last year was more than anybody expected," Shero said. "The second year [of the plan] is where you really wanted to make some strides and try to be a playoff team. Certainly, we're ahead of that [timetable].

"We still want to be a playoff team and, with the guys we have here, I believe we're a competitive team. We're not clicking on all cylinders, but we believe in the personnel we have."

That does not mean he has ruled out making any moves. The Penguins have a number of needs -- more speed, another goal-scorer or two and a reliable defenseman with a physical edge to his game -- and Shero won't balk at negotiating a trade if it addresses one of them without breaking his budget.

"If there's an opportunity [to make a trade] that fits, short and long term for us, we'll try to do that if it makes sense," he said.

One move that does not make sense to him is removing Fleury from a prominent place in the Penguins' future. He has performed to his potential in only a few games this season, but won't turn 23 until Nov. 28, and Shero is convinced he will continue to develop and progress.

"I believe in him as a goalie and as a kid," Shero said. "I think he has talent. He's young.

"We believe he'll find it. Like any young player, whether you're a goaltender or not, it's about consistency, and that's what he's trying to find in his game. I still believe he'll have a good year for us."

Fleury might be the primary lightning rod for public displeasure with the Penguins' performance this season; if not, it is Therrien, whose habit of changing his line combinations is a popular target of criticism.

Shero, though, said he will "absolutely not" consider a change on his coaching staff, and that promising young players are not going to be jettisoned simply because they are off to slow starts.

"Going back to the summer, one of the things we were thinking, cautiously, about [was the possibility of] some of the younger guys taking a little step back, whether it's Jordan [Staal] or [Erik] Christensen or [Colby Armstrong]," he said.

"We believe in those players. We believe they're still going to be good. So I don't think it's a cause for concern."

Shero believes that such adversity will help the Penguins become a championship-caliber club.

"This league is very tough," he said.

"Our conference is vastly improved, especially our division, so we know it's going to be a battle. It's going to make our younger players better. This whole experience is going to make them better."


Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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