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Penguins avoid public scolding

| Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008

"Mad Mike" hasn't gone mild.

However, at least one person believes coach Michel Therrien has carried a new approach into his third full season with the Penguins.

"I agree with that," Therrien said Monday from his office at Southpointe, where he scrapped a scheduled practice.

"I know the players are lot better. I know their personalities a lot better. I know how to get the most out of them."

Through 12 games, at least a handful of those distinct for the Penguins' uninspired play, Therrien's way to reach his players has not included a post-match tirade - a practice that earned him the "Mad Mike" tag.

The Penguins went 1-2-1 on a four-game road trip that provided three grand opportunities for Therrien to rip into his club. There was a blown two-goal lead in the third period of an eventual shootout loss at New York on Oct. 25, a franchise record-matching 11-shot performance in a defeat at San Jose last Tuesday that followed, and a convincing vanquishing at Phoenix on Thursday that started with a two-shot opening period.

Never mind the turkey; fixings galore were on Therrien's table.

He never sat down. After each of those distasteful defeats, Therrien detailed his disappointment in a soft tone and reserved manner.

"That doesn't mean I'm getting soft," Therrien said. "But we've got to take a different approach.

"I don't need to add to their pressure. When there's no pressure, I'm not afraid to be the guy to bring it, but you've got to manage the pressure."

Longtime assistant Mike Yeo, often considered the so-called good cop to Therrien's bad cop, said his boss remains "intense and hard."

"But everything he does is calculated," Yeo said. "And he does have a good feel for this team. The players have a good idea what it takes, too. We understand that.

"The major overhaul we went through a couple of years ago - it's not the same thing anymore."

Therrien, an avid reader of psychology books, talked of "changing the culture" after replacing Eddie Olczyk as coach in December 2005. He inherited a struggling squad filled with aging stars that finished 29th in the overall standings.

Only 30 months later, his nucleus of young stars astonished observers with its collective adherence to a responsible defensive system and a blue-collar work ethic as the Penguins came within two victories of the Stanley Cup last June.

That turnaround earned Therrien a new three-year contract, which he said yesterday has played no part in his tamer temperament this season.

"Honestly, it's a good feeling to know the organization has faith in what I've done in the past," Therrien said. "But I understand the job I have to do and how I have to do it.

"If I've changed how I do it this year, it's absolutely not because of (the contract). It is just my feeling that I know my players better now - what works and what doesn't."

Several current Penguins, such as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, center Max Talbot and defenseman Rob Scuderi, have relationships with Therrien dating to their days together with AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

He's the only NHL coach Sidney Crosby has known as team captain, and the only NHL coach centers Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have known -- period.

Those players possess a comfort level with their coach - perhaps the reason all parties are confident the team will once again shake off a slow start and surge into the playoffs.

"He has more confidence in us," Talbot said. "From our point of view, too, we know him better. We've all been through this together.

"In the past when he's come out (publicly) with criticism, we knew we deserved it, but maybe he wasn't so sure we knew that. That's not the case with our guys anymore. We know we've deserved it a few times this year; our coach is comfortable enough to know that and hasn't made it a big deal in the media.

"Maybe that's a little thing, but it's experience on his part, too - and it's helped."

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