Penguins beat Shero's expectations
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Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Who would have thought that Mark Recchi, Jordan Staal and the Penguins would have 101 points heading into the final week of the regular season?
There are supposed to be almost seven billion people living on this planet.
If that's true, chances are that someone, somewhere predicted the Penguins would have 101 points heading into the final week of the 2006-07 regular season.
And actually believed it.
Not general manager Ray Shero, though. He insists the idea that this could be a 100-point team never occurred to him.
"I was actually thinking about 115, 116 myself," he said.
Shero laughed, and understandably so. Partly because almost no one foresaw the Penguins having so much success in 2006-07, and partly because it's easy to smile when the club you run is winning, healthy and excited about the challenges before it.
Truth be told, Shero said, projecting how the Penguins would fare wasn't a priority as training camp wound down. There were other, more pressing concerns.
"I never came into this season with any expectations about points or wins," he said. "I thought that was getting way too far ahead of ourselves.
"The first goal was to be competitive, and that meant getting competitive players, competitive people, identifying some roles and, hopefully, [having] some of these young players I'd heard so much about mature. Obviously, a lot of that has come together."
That wasn't the case early in the Penguins' 5-4 loss in Toronto Saturday, when they started the game with a striking lack of urgency before rallying to force overtime and salvage a point.
The perils of spotting opponents a three-goal lead 32 minutes into the game are obvious, but so is the tenacity the Penguins have shown so many times this season after falling behind.
"We've had our moments this year when we haven't been a good team, but we've been resilient," Shero said. "That's a word I use a lot with this club."
That quality is part of the reason Shero believes the Penguins' 45-23-11 record is a reasonable reflection of their talents and intangibles.
"I think it's legitimate," he said. "We've got the best player in the world here in Sidney Crosby. A key for us has been the goaltending, but also the maturity of younger players who have stepped up their game."
Shero has done some significant fine-tuning since succeeding Craig Patrick as GM last spring -- he brought in free agents such as Mark Eaton and Jarkko Ruutu, oversaw the selection of Jordan Staal in the first round of last year's draft and traded for Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque -- but acknowledges that a foundation was being put in place before he was hired.
"A lot of things have come together, but I don't think you can say that it's not something to build on when you have a talent level like some of these kids do," he said. "As a manager, I'm very fortunate to have these things in place. I think you have to build on that."
The building won't stop simply because the Penguins have qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2001. A goal-scoring winger or two and another reliable defenseman figure to be high on Shero's wish list when free agency begins July 1, and there likely will be a few tweaks to the roster.
For now, though, the focus is on the team as currently constituted. Shero points to its 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena Nov. 25 as one watershed moment in this season -- "That was the first time I thought, 'This is a pretty competitive group.' " -- and a 6-5, come-from-behind victory at the Air Canada Centre Feb. 10 as another.
"I watched on TV and it just hit me that, 'Hey, we're pretty good,' " he said.
Good enough that simply qualifying for the playoffs and gaining experience that will pay dividends in coming years no longer is the standard for a fulfilling season.
"I don't think so," Shero said. "That's one of the things we've talked about over the last week or so. [Coach Michel Therrien] saw some things slipping here and there, and he's addressed the team, in terms of not being satisfied.
"It's easy, as a young group, to be satisfied with the year you've had, especially if things start to go against you. That's one of the things we want to guard against. Don't be satisfied.
"It's easy for some of the younger kids to go home [after the season] and say, 'Well, we had a good year. It's been great. I played in the NHL.' But that's not good enough. That's not the expectation we have."
First Published April 2, 2007 12:00 am