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Double OT: Therrien teaching young Pens how to win

Head coach Michel Therrien of the Pittsburgh Penguins instructs teammates during a practice for the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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Head coach Michel Therrien of the Pittsburgh Penguins instructs teammates during a practice for the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

I’d love to have a dollar for every time I’ve heard the Pittsburgh Penguins, most of them that is, can’t stand coach Michel Therrien.

To which I say, too bad.

Let’s be honest, how many of us really like our bosses? Oh, and how many of us are lucky enough to work for a kind and understanding boss like Jason Kay?

As I was saying, the Penguins are built on a foundation of young studs, the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury. That is the core of a team destined to get back to the Stanley Cup final before too long – as long as they continue to be coached by Therrien.

It’s not as though he’s the only man who can guide this club, but give credit where credit is due. Does anybody out there believe the Penguins would have managed to steal two games off the powerful Detroit Red Wings in the final if not for the defensive teachings of the guy they call Mike?

Offense is great. Defense wins.

And when you can blend the two, the way the Red Wings have for so many years, your chances of winning the Cup are greatly enhanced. And trust me, you don’t have to like your coach to be successful.

You think Vinny Lecavalier liked John Tortorella when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup in 2004? Not a chance. Think Chris Chelios had Mike Babcock over for tea the day after the Wings won in Pittsburgh after being a healthy scratch through the entire final? Yeah, right.

But Lecavalier and Chelios both have their name etched on the Cup, thanks in part to the men who stood behind the bench directing traffic.

Therrien may be demanding and sarcastic with his players, but there is no denying he made an impact on the Penguins’ ability to play a sound defensive game. I’ve never really bought into the theory you can’t teach offense, because coaches should be able to incorporate a system that allows their players to generate scoring chances. Look at the Wings, even their fourth-liners get offensive opportunities.

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I do, however, believe a coach can have a great impact on teaching players to be responsible when they aren’t on the attack. And that, more than anything else, was why the Penguins were able to force the final to six games after being humbled in Games 1 and 2. After catching their breath, the Penguins dug in deep and reduced the number of quality Red Wings scoring chances.

Credit Therrien for that one.

It is often written that Steve Yzerman didn’t become a winner until Scotty Bowman convinced him to sacrifice a little offense for defense in his game. The Penguins have quality offensive players, but those types of players can only carry a team so far. They need a coach who continually harps about the value of two-way play.  

The players who don’t like Therrien might want to think twice about changing teams, if that is the route they have planned. For starters, there is no guarantee their next coach will be easier to get along with. And there is certainly no guarantee changing teams will get them any closer to winning the Cup.

Given a choice, I’d stick with Sid, Malkin, Staal, Fleury…and Therrien. 

Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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