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Monday, May 5, 2008
 

Tribune-Review Penguins writer Rob Rossi answers questions about the Pittsburgh Penguins. The following are questions answered prior to March, 2008.

Check out Chipped Ice Rossi's Penguins blog, for the latest on 2007-08 Penguins.

Q: A great many analysts and super computers picked the Red Wings to beat the Penguins in the Stanley Cup final. I was 7-years-old when the Penguins first won the Cup in 1991. They beat the Minnesota North Stars that year and the Chicago Blackhawks in 1992. Were the Penguins favorites in either series?

-- Allen Lighthiser, of Wheeling, W.Va.

A: Current Penguins radio broadcaster Phil Bourque -- "the only Bourque with two Stanley Cup rings" (c. Phil Bourque) -- is fond of saying his Penguins were trying "to prove a lot of skeptics wrong" in 1991 and 1992. Perhaps that is true, but the Penguins were favored to win each Stanley Cup final, even if they were not favored to reach those Cup final series entering the playoffs.

The 1991 Stanley Cup final matched the Penguins, who had won their first-ever division title in the regular season, but lacked championship experience, against a Minnesota squad that had upset Chicago, St. Louis and Edmonton. The North Stars were riding a wild wave of home success and a strong power-play, but the Penguins had Mario Lemieux, arguably the best player in the world at the time, and home-ice advantage -- and that made the Penguins a trendy pick.

The Penguins were defending champs in 1992 when they met Chicago, and thus they were favored in the Cup final even though the Blackhawks rode an 11-game win streak into the championship series. The Penguins had star-power -- Lemieux, forwards Kevin Stevens and Jaromir Jagr, goaltender Tom Barrasso -- and they had already upended Washington and the New York Rangers, teams that finished second and first atop the regular-season standings. Plus, the Penguins were on a decent roll, too. They had won seven consecutive games. Experts thought they would beat Chicago, just not in four games.

This Penguins team has its doubters, to be sure. Most national hockey pundits believe the Red Wings' experience will prove a decisive edge, and a lot of people think Detroit is just better.

That may be true.

I still believe the Penguins will win the Stanley Cup. My pick was five games, and maybe that won't play out. But even if they lose Game 2 tonight, I would be surprised if the Penguins don't return to Detroit for Game 5 tied in the best-of-seven series, 2-2. This one isn't over yet.

Q: Given the strong pull of international play on European players, do you think Evgeni Malkin is somewhat disappointed that he didn't play in the World Championships, where his native Russia captured gold?

-- Jeremiah Jenkins of Portland

A: Evgeni Malkin risked a lot, more than most of us can possibly imagine, in pursuit of his NHL dream. Lost in his MVP-caliber season is that he is two years removed from a cloak-and-dagger-like escape from Russia to join the Penguins. He was vilified in his native country, and his family, which remained in Russia, was under unimaginable strain.

Malkin does not discuss this subject all that often. However, as I spoke to him hours before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, he assured me that his goal from childhood not to simply play in the NHL, but to rate among the finest hockey players in the world. I asked him if winning a Stanley Cup was also a goal. He grinned and shook his head.

"For everybody, right?" Malkin said. "It's the Cup."

Were the Penguins not making a deep playoff run, perhaps Malkin would have joined Russia for the recently-wrapped World Championships. But they were on a deep playoff run thanks to Malkin's sparkling play through two rounds, and he told me those two rounds were the most fun he has had playing hockey.

Malkin seems to have a lot of fun playing hockey, so that is saying something.

As the Red Wings skated at Joe Louis Arena this morning, Malkin walked to the Penguins' bench and observed their drills. Hands in pocket, he silently watched, paying particular attention to Detroit's defensemen. Less than 10 minutes into this act, he smiled, nodded his head and returned to the dressing room.

He wouldn't say if he noticed something he thought he could exploit. But he did offer this assessment of his mindset heading into Game 1:

"This is a game, just like the rest," Malkin said.

I asked if he was excited for the Cup final to start.

"No, no," Malkin said. "Get excited when you get the Cup. Just play hockey until then."

Not sure what to make of that exchange, but I think Penguins fans should like the way Malkin is thinking.

Q: It is frustrating for fans to see players come and go. In the interest of keeping stronger ties to specific players and teams, would a process that rewards teams that kept players it drafted work in the NHL?

--Joey Yaukovitz of West Des Moines

A: Many dear readers -- and I do mean MANY -- are curious as to why I wrote a story about the Penguins' potential free agents when I have championed for weeks that people simply live in the moment and enjoy this Cup run rather than worry about what may or may not happen on/after July 1.

Fair enough.

But it is interesting to me that agents, who are more dialed in to what NHL general managers think than anybody, believe the Penguins will keep together their core players -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fluery and, yes, Ryan Whitney -- for the foreseeable future. Combine that belief with the thought among many league front office types that believe that core will make the Penguins competitive for the Cup every year -- and, well, I guess my point is that people should stop worrying about July 1 even while accepting that many players on this current roster will not return next season.

The Penguins will be OK.

Now, to Mr. Yaukovitz's point: I favor a franchise player-type rule for the next CBA between the NHL and its players' association. Basically, I don't think it is wrong for a team to be allowed to designate one player that it drafted -- a very specific point, I might add -- as "untouchable." Here is how I would work it: A team, say, the Penguins, can apply a franchise tag to one player that it drafted. That player can be paid whatever the team/player wishes, and half of that annual salary average will count against the salary cap. If Sidney Crosby's annual salary is $10 million, the Penguins will only absorb a $5 million cap hit, thus creating room to sign other players or pursue free agents. Crosby would not have to sign with the Penguins, but he would have incentive to sign because he can make more money with them than any other club, and help them compete by doing so. Applying this franchise tag to only players drafted by that team would put even more emphasis on drafting and developing players.

This is probably too simple of a plan. But I like the idea that a team can keep its best player in a way that benefits both the player and the team.

Q: Puck possession has been a key factor in the success of the Red Wings and Penguins. If that is true, don't faceoffs become an important factor in the Stanley Cup final• How can the Penguins improve their poor faceoff winning percentage against the Red Wings?

-- George Gasbarre, Jr. of Dubois

A: Why don't I start this Q&A submission with a spoiler alert• I am not picking a winner in the Stanley Cup final yet. As most of you are aware, I picked the Penguins to win in five games in each of the previous three series. And maybe I am leaving toward a five-game prediction again. But I am not sure which team to take.

I do know this: "Hockey 101," that book center Evgeni Malkin never reads (remember?), suggests that the Penguins will struggle against the Red Wings due to a clear faceoff win percentage mismatch. The Red Wings are the best team in the playoffs at 55.7 percent; the Penguins rate near the bottom at 46.7 percent. Given the desire of both teams to possess the puck, this advantage for the Red Wings would seem to be a possible deciding factor. Statistics point to the Penguins chasing the Red Wings a lot more than vice versa.

Of course, statistics can always be misleading.

Are the Red Wings a better faceoff team than the Penguins• Absolutely. But the Penguins were dead-last during the regular season in faceoff win percentage, and still they managed to record the fourth-highest point total in the NHL.

The Penguins are blessed with forwards -- including four centers (Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal and Max Talbot) -- that are strong skaters and ferocious forecheckers with different levels of speed. There has been a lot of speculation among my fellow media brethren that the Penguins will struggle in the Cup final because they haven't seen anything close to the overall depth of the Red Wings, who come at teams in waves of skill.

This is most surely a correct assessment. The Red Wings are in a different class than any of the Penguins' previous playoff opponents. In fact, the team that most resembles Detroit is the 2007 Ottawa Senators, who dear readers might recall swiftly pushed aside the Penguins last year.

So, take the Red Wings, right• They win faceoffs. They have depth offensively and defensively. They have the experience. They are from the big, bad Western Conference.

Well, here is my argument against a quick pick for Detroit: They don't have Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Talbot. Those guys don't win a lot of faceoffs, but they win battles for pucks and are expert at taking pucks from opponents. At least they have been during the playoffs. They'll need to be against the Red Wings.

Again, I'm not ready to make my pick. But keep this truth in mind when assessing this series: The Penguins are better than the Red Wings down the middle on every line, and they have a clear advantage on the third line with Staal. The Red Wings do come at opponents in waves, but they have yet to face an opponent with the depth down-the-middle that the Penguins possess.

How they react to that strength for the Penguins is just one reason I cannot wait for this Cup final to begin.

Q: Is general manager Ray Shero talking to any of the potential unrestricted free agents about signing a new contract• He would be smart to jump on things before July 1.

-- Ryan Tucker of London, Ontario

A: I broached the subject of free-agent negotiations with general manage Ray Shero at the morning skate prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final. His answer was short and to-the-point: "No contract talk during the playoffs."

If he is saying that to the media, I have to believe he is saying that to agents for players. And based on my discussions with agents for a few of the Penguins' unrestricted free agents, I can say that Shero's statement applies.

Not to sound like a broken record, but I cannot stress enough that Penguins fans should quit worrying about July 1 -- the first day of free agency -- and simply enjoy one of the more remarkable playoff runs in franchise history. At this point, with the Penguins four wins from the Stanley Cup, next year should be of no concern. Their time is now.

And, anyway, the big guys -- centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury -- will be back, and are likely to be in Pittsburgh for a while. They are the chosen ones, so to speak. Others, like Marian Hossa, will come and go. That is the way a salary-cap world works.

But, really, there is nothing more astonishing to me -- and the Penguins, I can report -- than talk among fans about next year, especially when this year is proving to be historic.

Q: Kris Letang was called for "clipping" in Game 4 at Philadelphia. How many times has that been called this season• I thought his hit was an old-school hip-check. I was so mad at that call that blood was running out of my ears.

-- Ben Daykon of Jeannette

A: I will get into that blood-out-of-your-ears problem later, dear reader. As for the "clipping" call on defenseman Kris Letang in Game 4 -- well, I can honestly not recall that penalty being assessed during any game I have covered this season. Honestly, I cannot recall a "clipping" penalty being assessed for any game that I covered last year, either.

A lot of Penguins fans -- not to mention quite a few media members at the time of that call -- thought Letang made a clean play. I have watched several replays of the hit, and I have come to this conclusion: It was a bad call. It was not the worst call in hockey history, as many fans have suggested to me, but it was bad call. The replay does not show that Letang hitting Flyers forward Scottie Upshall low enough to result in a "clipping" penalty. I suppose an argument could be made that Letang interfered with Upshall, but "interference" was not the penalty assessed to Letang. "Clipping" was, and by the definition of "clipping," I say it was a bad call.

According to the NHL official rule book, a "clipping" penalty is assessed for the "act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent."

A greater concern to me is that Mr. Daykon suffers from a rare reaction to bad calls in a hockey game. I am no doctor, but blood running out of any fan's ears following a poor call by an NHL official absolutely requires medical attention. I would suggest a swift visit to the emergency room. But do call ahead to make sure all TVs in the ER are tuned to the Penguins playoff game. And understand that if the Penguins score while said blood is running out of your ears, the dear readers must make such a sacrifice in all future playoff games.

Q: It seems that the Versus camera angles and production work is awful. Anything other than a center-ice camera is impossible to follow during play. The angle switches seem to always happen at inopportune times. Do you agree?

-- Paul Adomshick of Findlay, Pa.

A: I am far from an expert on anything, most especially camera angles. But I have received quite a few Versus-related complaints from dear readers -- many noting this camera-angle issue and nearly all suggesting the cable network's announcers are often anti-Penguins.

The latter complaint is way off. I will be 30 on Friday, which means I've been listening to Pittsburgh fans gripe that national announcers hate their teams for about 21 years. (I spent my first nine years primarily focused on more important things -- like, Colorforms, He-man cartoons and trying to recreate "You Can't Do That On Television" green slime in my Crafton kitchen.) Anyway, my point is that Pittsburgh sports fans seemingly always think national announcers are against their teams.

They aren't, usually.

Still, I could be wrong about Versus announcers. I don't watch too many Penguins games on the network, for obvious reasons.

As for the camera angles -- well, I can speak on that subject, and I tend to agree that they are below the standard a hockey fan would crave. Still, I think the Versus NHL product has improved drastically over the past three years, and I commend the network for taking the sport seriously -- something ESPN never did in the latter years.

U.S. broadcasts of NHL games are always going to pale in comparison to the ones in Canada, and that is mostly because camera operators in Canada grow up around the game. Camera operators in this country grow up around football, basketball or baseball, but rarely hockey. And though most camera operators I know try hard to understand the subtleties that make hockey enticing to so many fans, they simply cannot be expected to expertly follow the action for a sport they don't really know.

Ask a camera operator raised in England to follow the action in a NFL game, and the dilemma would be similar.

I have long advocated the NHL hiring Canadian-born camera operators -- or, basically, folks with a firm understanding of hockey - and working out contracts for them with rights holders such as FSN affiliates and Versus. This would result in a better TV product for NHL games. I'm not even sure it is possible for the NHL to engage in this type of behavior, but it would be worth investigating. The cost would be worth it, at least to hockey fans.

Q: Is it just me or are the Flyers, more than either of the Penguins' first two playoff opponents, lamenting injuries and officiating to the extent they believe that is the reason for their failure to win Games 1 and/or 2. Why can't people just acknowledge that the Penguins have not just a couple of remarkable players, but put forth a total team effort• They're not 10-1 in the playoffs because officiating is going their way?

-- Jim Angelo of Winchester, Va.

A: Upon my return to Pittsburgh, I'm sure a few thousand locals will want to harm me for this statement, but I have no problem with the Flyers' reaction to injuries and officiating. What are they supposed to say• Yep, the Penguins are just better. We can't beat them, at least not in Pittsburgh, and it really doesn't matter what we do.

Sorry, but trailing a best-of-seven series, 0-2, because they dropped two games on the road does not mean the Flyers are all-but-eliminated. I know Penguins fans want to believe that, but the reality is the club that must win a game to take firm control of this Eastern Conference final is the Penguins. It they don't win either Games 3 or 4 in Philadelphia, pressure shifts squarely to them.

All the Penguins have done is what they were supposed to do -- hold home-ice. If they are as great as many of their fans presume, they will either end this series in Philadelphia, or at least leave the so-called "City of Brotherly Love" with a 3-1 lead.

I think they will. But I also think the Flyers were right to talk about anything after Game 2 that did not focus on something that is becoming clear: They do not win any match-up against the Penguins, except for possibly faceoffs, which is not enough to win the series.

That being said; the Flyers are banged up, and the loss of top defenseman Kimmo Timonen and the likelihood that new No. 1 Braydon Coburn will not play in Game 3 are significant factors working against them. As for the officiating remarks -- well, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren fairly downplayed his club's complaint on Monday. For my money, a few bad calls have gone against the Penguins and Flyers.

Mr. Angelo is correct: The Penguins are not 10-1 in the playoffs because officiating is going their way. But I disagree that people have not come around to them being a very good team, certainly one that is more than merely Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins' team-defense, depth and work-ethic are being praised across North America. Rightfully so, too. To suggest they are not being paid due respect is off-base.

Q: I'm a little surprised that Evgeni Malkin's second goal in Game 1 -- his shorthanded, breakaway slapshot -- is being talked about as a brilliant play. His team was up a goal and down a man when he was hit. He lazily skated back into the neutral zone, which put his team on a 3-on-5 situation. He should have come off the ice if he was too dazed from the hit to continue. The fact that he didn't and it resulted in a goal doesn't negate that fact that it was a stupid play. Malkin deserves many of the accolades he receives, but not this time. Thoughts?

-- Mike Curtis of Brevard, N.C.

A: There is this book that exists, though I'm not sure where because I've never actually seen it. But I'm told this book does exist. Players talk about it. Coaches refer to it. We in the media acknowledge it. I was at a Borders book store once, ran into an otherwise helpful young girl that could not find the book either in that store or its database. I need this book.

"Hockey 101," at least that is what everybody calls the book.

So, anyway, Evgeni Malkin and I chat in English about every other day. The topics we've discussed in recent weeks: His love of Times Square, his lightning-quick text message ability, his sense of fashion only being misunderstood by members of the media (and who are we to judge?), hi-definition golf vs. golf on standard TVs, our hopes for "Transformers 2," and Mother's Day cards.

Over our many fast chats from the past few months, Malkin has never mentioned "Hockey 101."

I wonder if he knows it exists.

I hope not.

Malkin is a lot more fun to cover because he doesn't always abide by the book. The great ones - pun intended -- standout because they choose their own adventure.

Was the sequence that ultimately led to his spirit-crushing second goal in Game 1 the "smart" hockey play• Probably not.

But I'm not sure it was "smart" for a British colony to declare independence from England a few centuries back, either. Follow me?

Great people do great things at significant times. I choose to focus on the result, no matter how it was achieved.

Q: I think it is time to take on the whiteout, don't you• The majority of fans would prefer wearing gold. Away teams wear white, and it's a generic color. White is inferior to gold. I propose a gold rush for Game 5.

-- John Aderhold of Wheeling, W.Va.

A: I was against the whiteout at first. However, after taking in the scene for Game 1 against the New York Rangers in the second round, I'm way in love with the unified front that it presented. Does the NHL's still idiotic decision for home teams to wear dark uniforms -- a decision I pray the league reconsiders ASAP -- take away from the whiteout• Absolutely it does. But a whiteout remains cool, and I applaud the Penguins for any attempt to make home playoff games feel special.

As for the propose gold rush -- yeah, I'm not a fan. See, the Las Vegas Gold the Penguins have adopted does not play well on team-merchandise items. To me, that color seems closer to mustard than gold. It doesn't sparkle or shine on replica jerseys or sweatshirts or hats. It's a tad dull. A crowd full with Las Vegas Gold gear would turn Mellon Arena into the hockey equivalent of a giant Grey Poupon container. And, really, doesn't Pittsburgh already have one Mustard Bowl (Heinz Field)?

I have a suggestion, though: A baby blueout.

Don't scoff.

I know what most dear readers are thinking: The Penguins wear black and gold. This much is true. But look close around town and especially in the stands at Mellon Arena. It is impossible to miss how popular the retro-themed gear from the Winter Classic has become. It is also impossible to ignore this truth: Baby Blue - or powder blue or whatever anybody wants to call that light blue the Penguins wore on that chilly day in Buffalo for the outdoor game -- is THE PENGUINS' COLOR. That is what they wore when they were born.

I understand why they switched to Pittsburgh's black and gold in 1980. But times have changed. The Penguins now standout from the Steelers and Pirates, and in many ways a return to the baby blue color scheme would signify Pittsburgh's new standing as a hockey town.

What I like about the Terrible Towel is that the Steelers never need to hand them out. Fans know to bring that item to Steelers games.

I suggest Penguins fans are equally capable of such knowledge. I also suggest they can show their strength with an en-masse showing of baby blue gear. Who cares if anybody outside of Pittsburgh "got it," so to speak• The Penguins are Pittsburgh's team, and if only Pittsburghers "get" the blueout, that is even better.

Plus, the blueout would give a distinctly different feel to the one-color crowd concept, and perhaps convince Penguins officials -- some of whom do not need convincing -- that the time has come to reclaim the hockey club's identity by returning to blue threads when the new arena opens.

On a semi-related subject: I wonder if I can get Maniac magazine to start sponsoring this blog?

Q: What is with all these teams complaining about officiating• Brendan Shanahan said there was a parade of Rangers going to the penalty box. Did anybody point out to him that the Rangers had more power plays in the second-round series against the Penguins?

-- Kyle Moylan of East Windsor, N.J.

A: Clearly, the Penguins are playing in the Eastern Conference final because officials favor them. Can it be more obvious• They were awarded 24 power plays in the second-round series against the Rangers. How was New York to compete given its paltry total of 25?

Through two rounds, the Penguins have averaged 5.1 power plays per games. Through 82 regular-season contests, they averaged 4.6.

That difference -- half a power-play chance per game, whatever that means -- probably seems like a lot to opponents. Maybe it is.

My advice to opponents: STOP TAKING PENALTIES AGAINST THE PENGUINS, especially careless penalties.

For every complaint that Sidney Crosby dives to draw calls, I can think of an example of an opposing player committing a foul in the offensive or neutral zones to give the Penguins a power-play chance. Maybe those chances do not mean much against some opponents. But this Penguins' power play can dominate, and even when it does not, it has a knack for producing goals at key moments -- as was the case in Games 1, 2 and 3 against the Rangers.

Were I a fan of the Penguins, I would actually hope opponents continue the -- uh, what's that word• -- whining about the supposed favoritism shown the local club by officials. That approach served the Senators and Rangers well, no?

I have always believed that players, not refs, win playoff series. The Penguins have reached the East final because their players have been better. That is their advantage.

Q: It is clearly obvious that Sidney Crosby is not 100 percent. He is not the dominating presence we are accustomed to seeing. He is not even close to that level of play. It is time for the Penguins to publicly disclose Crosby's condition. Is this a repeat of last year when they failed to disclose his broken foot until after the playoffs• This treats the fans as children and is insulting. Anyone who is tuning in to view the Penguins for the first time must be wondering aloud, "What is so special about Sidney Crosby?" Of late he has been average, and it is time for the Penguins to explain why.

-- Ana Sofia Henao of Barranquilla, Colombia

A: So, the first hockey related question I receive from Colombia -- as opposed to the many non-hockey related questions from Colombia that frequently come my way -- just so happens to rate as one of the most absurd submissions in quite some time. One of the most absurd. There is some guy from Houston, Texas, that constantly refers to Sidney Crosby as "Cindy," and he "wouldn't give 'Cindy' two cents to put cheese on a Whopper."

I take it back, dear readers in Pittsburgh. I take back all of it. Clearly, the Penguins fans in my beloved city are the only sensible Penguins fans on earth.

Anyway, I guess it is a good thing the Penguins pay Crosby far more than two cents to produce wins than, say, dress up a burger. Clearly, though, he is not earning his money this postseason. The Penguins are merely 7-1 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a win today against the New York Rangers at home, where they rarely lose, from a tantalizing Eastern Conference final showdown against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Amateurs!

Loathsome louses!

Underachievers!

Jerks!

Back to reality...

Many dear readers have dropped notes directed at Crosby's health. I am no doctor, but he looks pretty healthy to me -- at least his right ankle, previously injured, looks fine. His skating stride is purposeful and strong. His stops and starts are smooth. I see nothing to suggest a recurrence of the high right ankle sprain that forced him to miss much of the second half to the regular season.

Some dear readers wonder if Crosby is dealing with an injured hand. I have not been made aware, but it is possible that he or any player is injured and nobody knows.

Keep in mind the Penguins are under no obligation to their fans to trumpet injuries to Crosby or any player. In the case of Max Talbot, whose right foot is broken, it is hard to miss that injury when he is walking around the dressing room in a medial boot. But if Crosby is injured, what interest does it serve for the Penguins to release that information• Few organizations work harder to appease the fan base than the local hockey club. But the idea is to win a championship, and there are times when secrecy helps in that quest. Not being completely forthright about players' injuries -- and the Penguins, under GM Ray Shero, usually are very forthright -- is part of the Cup playoffs, whether fans like it or not.

Again, though, Crosby is not injured from what I know.

And if anybody is reading this prior to Game 5, let me make this prediction about the Penguins' young captain: A national TV audience will find out today what is so special about him, because I don't think he is about to let this series go back to Madison Square Garden.

Q: I can't believe I'm writing this e-mail. I have been frustrated with the constant line changes by coach Michel Therrien and often tell my wife, or anyone else that will listen, that chemistry comes from spending time together on the ice. However, I have to read the headline twice; why was Therrien left out as finalist for the Jack Adams Award• I'm stumped. Does the talent on the Penguins overshadow his coaching job?

--Rich Wheland of Cranberry

A: I must make clear that as a standing member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and one with award voting privileges, neither I nor my PHWA colleagues determine the finalists for the Jack Adams Award. That goes to the coach of the year -- or rather "the coach who contributed most to his team's success" -- and it is voted on by NHL broadcasters.

So, basically, it really doesn't matter if I believe Michel Therrien was wronged by not being a finalist, as he was last season. I don't have a say in the matter.

The finalists are Detroit's Mike Babcock, Washington's Bruce Boudreau and Montreal's Guy Carbonneau -- and, personally, I would rate them all deserving of the award. Babcock led Detroit to the league's best record. It's tough to argue with that accomplishment even if the Red Wings are loaded. Boudreaux revived the Capitals as an early-season replacement and guided them to a surprise Southeast Division title. There can be no argument against his strong work. Carbonneau took the Canadiens to the top of the Eastern Conference with a rookie goalie. The Canadiens were not expected to make the playoffs, and exceeding expectations in hockey-mad Montreal is no easy task.

Still, Therrien's supporters -- and I am not often among them, as many of you know, though it is tough to debate his accomplishments with the Penguins -- have a gripe. He guided the Penguins to their first division title since 1998 despite lengthy injury-related absences to stars Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury. His club overcame a poor start, an acrimonious split with veteran leader Mark Recchi, a few handfuls of injuries, drops in production from Jordan Staal and Ryan Whitney, a potentially unpopular trade of well-liked players Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, and the burden of heavy expectations.

That is a pretty strong Adams case.

However, Therrien seemingly cannot silence his critics. There are many reasons for that, most of which I do not care to bore the dear readers with, but re

 

 

 
 


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