The Pittsburgh Pickle

Twenty-five games left in the season and Pittsburgh finally hit the panic button on their slide into mediocrity. Mike Therrien is out.

In some ways, it’s about time. He never seemed like the right fit for his players, exuding some quirky personality traits. His line management could be considered questionable at best. The system he coaches is not what GM Shero was building around. And, ultimately, the players stopped responding to him during the season, leaving him looking hapless and confused at times behind the bench. But is Therrien really a scapegoat for the under-performance and not the primary problem?

The Penns entered the season without Marrion Hossa, who came over last season is a blockbuster last minute trade and nearly defined the cup run with his talent. They also lost Ryan Malone in the off-season, thus leaving them powerless on the forecheck and without a net-crashing forward. As good as Marc Andre Flury is in goal, not having Ty Conklin to back him up has not made the situation any easier. Worse than than losing these guys is the fact that there was no real effort made to replace them. Not a single off-season trade brought in the caliber of the player lost.

Injuries are a part of any team’s season, just ask the Caps or the Wings or the Flyers, all who had entire lines decimated by injuries and still are succeeding. The Penns lost linchpin Sergi Gonchar early in the year and without him it undermined the entire offensive scheme and hurt their special teams significantly. One would think if a team like the Devs can overcome loosing Martin Brodeur than Gonchar’s presence would be replaceable, but there is no on like Gonchar in the Penn’s system, unlike how Clemmenson stepped up for NJ or how Malkin stepped in for Crosby last year.

The team was not built for success this season and it shows in the lack of depth in both offense and defense. The incompleteness of the team is more than evident when you look at their overall stats and how much they continue to struggle. Ever since the helm was handed over to Shero the fate of the time has ebbed and flowed on his decisions, or, perhaps indecision. Rumors even have it that the Hossa trade was more Lemieux’s doing than Shero and the inability to retain both him and Malone was all in how Shero wanted to structure budgets rather than how to win.

Center Sydney Crosby has no scoring threat wingers on his line and with opposing defenses willing to double team star players it has diminished Crosby’s production. He is still top three in overall points and assists but he doesn’t dominate in any category which is also reflected in his line-mates production numbers overall. Furthermore, his goal scoring numbers are way down (Defensive phenom Mike Green of the Caps has scored more goals to date) which comes from both the lack of wingers feeding him the puck effectively and his own lack of a golden scoring touch so far this year.

Sid the Kid also lacks the leadership of a seasoned captain on the ice. He’s struggled to be a motivator for the team and really act as a dynamic driving force for the other players. His presence is not something you feel on the ice where even when he’s not producing he’s still influencing the game and it certainly does not seem to flow from the locker room with in any discernible way. Without more veteran roll-players around him, Crosby does not have anyone to learn from while on the ice.

They’re falling fast and hard in the second half of the season, looking more disappointing than the collapse in Ottawa or the under-achievement in Toronto or the complete lack of anything happening in Tampa. There’s plenty of blame to go around, for sure. And, with the team’s future budgets hanging in the balance on if they make a playoff spot this year the pressure is on to do something. Of course, the default axe to fall is on the coach because no GM will fire himself and one certainly can’t expect a team to fire 20-some players to fix the problem. However, it’s going to take more than a coaching change to undo this. Huge moves to pick up a potent scoring winger, a gritty forward and perhaps a stay-at-home blue liner would be a good start.

Sixteen of the final twenty five games are against teams currently in playoff seeds and the Penns are five out, trailing not one, not two, but three SouthEast division teams, one of which is the headshakingly over-performing Florida Panthers. That’s a fairly large hill to climb and they have to start climbing it soon.

The shock has not sunk in yet, obviously, since they began the new era under Dan Bylsma by loosing to the lowly last place Isles. Granted, he hardly had adequate time to prepare, but with the talent the Penns are supposed to have, a trained monkey should eek out a win against the Isles, not be playing catchup twice during the game and then loosing in the shootout.

Bylsma has it work cut out for him, but is there enough time to teach guys a new system and wake up the sleeping offensive giant the Penns possess? Remember when Boudreau came up from the AHL and resurrected the Caps season last year? Well, he had a few more games to instill his teachings. This turnaround will have to be shouldered by the players themselves.

Prediction, if, and that’s a big IF they make the playoffs they will side into the eighth seed without much momentum. Boston’s balance will obliterate them in the first round and they will limp into the off-season coachless and lacking the resources to rebuild much of what has been lost post-Stanley Cup appearance.

About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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