The Penguins played a spirited contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, but unfortunately came up with the same outcome: a loss. The Pens have now lost their first 4 games under new head coach Michel Therrien, but the team is showing signs of buying into his system. The skating that the team has been doing in practice is starting to show in the games. There were a lot more players moving their feet to keep up with the opposition last night and a lot less clutching and grabbing. The team defense still needs some improvement, but things look to be turning around.
The teams skated to a 0-0 tie in the first period, but the Penguins looked to have the upper hand. That spilled over into the beginning moments of the second period. The flightless bird took a 1-0 lead when Mark Recchi deflected home a Sergei Gonchar shot on the power play. That lead was short lived though. The Leafs quickly answered on a goal by Alexander Khavanov. The Maple Leafs gained some momentum at that point, and got a power play goal late in the second period from Penguin killer, Mats Sundin. Sundin has more goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins (33) than any other player in history.
The Penguins fought to tie the game in the third period and finally pulled even on a spectacular individual effort by Sidney Crosby. Crosby was fighting for the puck behind and to the right of the Toronto net, he was knocked to a knee. He slid himself out in front of the net on one knee, took a shot which was saved by goaltender, Mikael Tellqvist. He then pushed the rebound across to Michel Ouellet, who buried a shot behind Tellqvist.
The Penguins failed to capitalize on a long 5 on 3 advantage late in the third period, though they generated several great chances and added to their power play shot total. They finished with 19 while on the man advantage.
Then came overtime and a very familiar scene. Mats Sundin found Tomas Kaberle for the game winning goal.
The Penguins seem to be moving closer to where Michel Therrien wants them to be, but have yet to find the formula for winning the close games. Winning is something that has to be learned, these pens are still in class, but are moving towards graduation.
Mario Lemieux may start skating next week. However, he is not expected to play for at least 2 more weeks.
Here is a copy of an open letter that Michel Therrien wrote to the fans of Wilkes Barre-Scranton. This is a very classy move by a man who was panned in certain parts of the US and Canada when he was named coach of the Penguins. He may rub some the wrong way, but I have no problem with someone who is this passionate about winning. He is a man who takes losing personally. I was very impressed by this gesture and wanted to pass it on. (credit to Lets Go Pens webmaster RJ Akerman for posting it on his board)
Dear Penguins Fans,
The past two weeks have gone by like a whirlwind. Little did I know that as I stood behind the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton bench and watched as our team recorded a 7-1 win against the Manitoba Moose December 10 that it would be my last game as your head coach.
The chance to return to the National Hockey League is what I have been working toward since joining the Penguins organization two-and-a-half years ago. That opportunity came very quickly earlier this month, meaning I did not have the chance to let you all know how important and enjoyable my time in Wilkes-Barre has been.
Myself, Mike Yeo and Stephane Dube can not thank you all enough for your support, both at the arena and in the community. There is no doubt in my mind that you are the most passionate, most die-hard and most dedicated fans in the American Hockey League. Your presence inside the Wachovia Arena is a home ice advantage that no other team in the league has, and lifts the players more than you will ever know.
Away from the rink, you welcomed me and my children to your area with open arms. We made many great friends during our stay in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and they will all be missed.
I would also like to thank Jeff Barrett, Rich Hixon, Greg Petorak and Tom Grace from the Penguins' front office, the training staff of Mark Dumas, Teddy Richards and Patrick Steidle, and the rest of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton organization for their help. Having such a dedicated group behind you only makes your job easier, and I can not thank them enough.
My gratitude goes out to every player who has suited up for me in Wilkes-Barre, and especially team captain Alain Nasreddine. It is good to know that he is on hand to help lead the way for the Penguins.
And lastly, I would ask that you give your full support to new head coach Joe Mullen. I was part of the group that suggested Joe for the job, and we all believe that he will continue to provide the lessons and leadership that form the backbone of a winning franchise.
I now begin a new chapter in my life, with new challenges. But wherever I go, I will always take a piece of Wilkes-Barre with me. My two years with you have been some of the most fulfilling and memorable of my life, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Best Wishes and Happy Holidays,
Head Coach, Pittsburgh Penguins