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Therrien sending mixed messages

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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007

Apparently, it's OK to play poorly if you're old, but not if you're young.

That's the message coach Michel Therrien is sending so far this season, as the last-place Penguins careen toward the quarter pole on a four-game losing streak.

So, Colby Armstrong, 24, sits. Tyler Kennedy, 21, sat before he was demoted. Marc-Andre Fleury, 22, sits.

Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi, a combined 80, never sit.

Odd, isn't it• You'd think the older guys could handle a healthy scratch, given their high character and low output, while you wonder if constantly pulling the younger guys might damage their confidence.

Actually, you don't have to wonder in the case of Armstrong and Fleury.

It's obviously easier for Therrien to punish the Armstrongs and Erik Christensens of the world, rather than risk the ire of a decorated veteran. But isn't he supposed to be a thick-skinned tough guy?

Isn't he the coach who stripped John LeClair of the assistant captaincy?

At the moment, it looks as if the Penguins are in danger of having two John LeClairs, though it's encouraging that defenseman Kris Letang was recalled from the minors Tuesday (and it'll be interesting to see how long his leash is).

What's more, Therrien's incessant lineup tinkering has blurred the roles on this team, sacrificed the chance for continuity and eroded the confidence of certain players.

The common response to that is, "Yeah, but he tinkered all the time last season, and the Penguins improved by 47 points."

Actually, Therrien kept his lineup mostly intact during the season-turning 14-0-2 streak. But it's not realistic to expect another historic run like that, which means the coach might need to stick with sensible combinations through, say, a 4-3-2 stretch.

Or at least for half a period.

The line combos almost made sense in the loss to the Devils on Monday. For one thing, Therrien finally reunited Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin. That game looked like a step in the right direction.

Still, it seems unfair that Armstrong continues to get scratched while Recchi and Roberts skate free of Therrien's clutches.

Armstrong delivered seven hits and drew a penalty against the Rangers on Thursday. He then played poorly, like most of his teammates, against the Flyers and was scratched Monday for the fourth time in six games.

Roberts has committed 10 minutes worth of mostly bad penalties in the past three games, leading to a pair of first-period goals for the opposition, and has one goal in 17 games.

He never sits.

Recchi has four goals in his past 46 professional hockey games (though he played pretty well on the second line Monday).

He never sits.

Hence, the question posed to Therrien after Monday's loss:

"What have Recchi and Roberts given you that Armstrong wouldn't or couldn't?"

Therrien: "(Pause) They're facing tough times, but they are an important part of our team. They're leaders, and we gotta stick with them."

Reporter: "Is it more difficult, because they're leaders and veterans, to scratch either one?"

Therrien: "It's not in my mind (to scratch either)."

It should be.

Armstrong, a key part of this team's future, should be afforded the opportunity to play through adversity. He doesn't deserve to be the scapegoat.

There is precious little tangible evidence that general manager Ray Shero made the right move when he signed Roberts and Recchi to one-year deals worth up to $4.5 million, combined.

Then again, those guys were signed as much for their "intangible" qualities, I suppose, and for the push they can provide in the playoffs.

Problem is, you have to get there.

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