Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari
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Q: What are your thoughts regarding Michel Therrien and his future with the Penguins? Does it hinge on a successful playoff series? Sure, he's got a lot of talent and I'll bet management and fans think he should be able to win a round or two or three or four. Then again, if they do for some reason bow out in the first round, I think it'd be a mistake to turn the reins over to someone else, given all that he's done this season and the last.
Chris, Washington, D.C.
MOLINARI: The range of opinions -- passionately held opinions -- on Therrien runs from those who believe he should be a unanimous choice as coach of the year to those who believe he isn't qualified to operate a concession stand in an NHL arena, let alone coach at this level.
The bottom line for any coach is results, and this is the second year in a row when it can reasonably be said that the Penguins exceeded most expectations; the thinking here before the season was that the Penguins would be good for 95-98 points, with the drop from the 105 they got in 2006-07 due mostly to the upgraded level of competition in the Atlantic Division.
The injuries that forced key players like Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury to miss large chunks of the season were not factored into that projection, of course, which makes what the Penguins have accomplished -- 102 points and a division title -- heading into the regular-season finale Sunday in Philadelphia all the more impressive.
Conversely, it's hard to believe that Therrien deserves much of the credit for the way Evgeni Malkin took charge after Crosby was injured, or the incredible run Ty Conklin went on when Fleury's high ankle sprain gave him an opportunity. Remember, Dany Sabourin, not Conklin, was Therrien's hand-picked choice to be the No. 2 goaltender.
What's more, Therrien has made more that a few moves that invite second-guessing. His penchant for incessant line-shuffling, especially earlier in the season, generated considerable criticism. So did his decision to exile defensemen Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik to left wing when he was unhappy with their work on the blue line, and reconfiguring what had been a highly productive power play certainly perplexed a lot of observers.
Ultimately, though, the success of Therrien's season -- like that of so many of his players -- will be determined by what the Penguins accomplish during the playoffs. The bar of expectations was raised dramatically when the Penguins gave up a fistful of assets to acquire Marian Hossa, knowing full well that he is free to leave via free agency this summer. Hossa was brought in to give Crosby the goal-scoring winger he's never had at this level and to, in the process, solidify the Penguins as a Stanley Cup contender.
They're hardly a lock to win a conference championship, let alone a Cup, but going out in the first round would be a disaster, and doing it in Round 2 would be a serious disappointment. That being the case, it's hard to believe Therrien would get a pass from management if the Penguins have an abbreviated stay in the playoffs. That doesn't mean he'd be guaranteed to lose his job under those circumstances, but it probably wouldn't be the time to request a long-term extension, either.
Q: What is wrong with the Ottawa Senators? Two months ago, I was dreading a matchup with them. Now, they might even miss the playoffs, not that that would bother me at all. Do you think they are still dangerous come the playoffs, or are they dead?
Michael Litzenberger, Blandon, Pa.
MOLINARI: What's wrong with the Ottawa Senators? You might want to consider posing that one to the good folks over at the Psychiatry Q&A, Michael. The Senators' meltdown after a 15-2 start -- a start that had some people wondering where the Senators ranked among the great teams in NHL history -- has been remarkable to watch, even from a considerable distance.
Still, even though the Senators have tumbled through the Eastern Conference in a manner that suggested they have an anvil strapped to their chest, the Penguins probably are the only team Ottawa might be reasonably confident about facing in a best-of-seven.
Not just because the Senators beat them it in five games last spring -- and made it look absurdly easy much of the time -- but because they had their way with the Penguins again little more than a month ago. Indeed, when the Senators went on a 3-7-3 free fall in February and March, two of those victories came against the Penguins in a span of eight days.
While Ottawa might be second-guessing just about everything else these days -- and, in fact, it probably should be -- the Senators almost certainly would view a series against the Penguins as a chance to regain their equilibrium, especially if they would happen to steal one of the first two games at Mellon Arena. For all the trouble Ottawa has had in recent months, the Penguins likely wouldn't mind if they aren't pitted against the Senators in the opening round. Or if Ottawa isn't in the field to begin with.
First Published April 4, 2008 12:00 am