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Penguins coach knows where puck stops if losing continues
Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press
Coach Eddie Olczyk knows that the Penguins must return from their five-game road trip with wins.
Click photo for larger image.

Related Story:

Penguins Notebook: Christensen, Whitney to see plenty of playing time tonight


He has received public votes of confidence from his general manager and his team owner the past several days, but Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk isn't naive enough to think his job is dead-bolt safe.

Or maybe even screen-door secure.

Not when the team is 1-5-5, last in the Atlantic Division with seven points, and one point off the bottom of the NHL standings heading into a five-game road trip that begins tonight at New Jersey.

Not when Olczyk was supplied with a long list of veteran free agents, a healthy version of Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, five of the top seven scorers from 2003-04 and draft lottery pick Sidney Crosby.

Olczyk understands why public grousing aimed at him seems louder than any reassurances coming from the team.

"I know it comes with the territory, the questioning and everything," he said yesterday after practice at Mellon Arena.

"If you don't win, people start looking and pointing fingers."

So far, he has escaped any of that from his bosses.

Sunday, general manager Craig Patrick said firing Olczyk is "not a consideration."

That came six days after Lemieux, the team captain and owner, spoke in defense of Olczyk.

"We have confidence in the coaching staff," Lemieux said, adding that the coaches employ a good system. He blamed the team's record on players who aren't getting the job done.

 
 
 
SCOUTING REPORT

Matchup: Penguins at New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m. today, Continental Airlines Arena.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WWSW-FM (94.5).

Probable goaltenders: Sebastien Caron or Jocelyn Thibault for Penguins, Scott Clemmensen for Devils.

Penguins: Starting a five-game, nine-day road trip, longest of the season. ... Were 1-1-1 on recent homestand to finish October with just seven points. ... Sidney Crosby leads team and all NHL rookies with 14 points.

Devils: Have won two games in a row. ... Leading scorer is RW Alexander Mogilny (5-7-12). ... Are 2-0 against the Penguins with an 11-4 scoring advantage.

Hidden stat: Despite the scoring discrepancy, the Devils hold just a 73-70 advantage in shots in the teams' first two games.

 
 
 

As evidence that Olczyk's firing is not management's first option in trying to get things turned around, the Penguins yesterday made a different move, recalling center Erik Christensen and defenseman Ryan Whitney from Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League.

That doesn't mean Olczyk's bosses have unlimited patience with him.

"We need to find a way, and I need to put guys in situations that are going to get the job done," Olczyk said. "Now we've made two call-ups, and if guys don't get the job done, then ultimately you'll end up making decisions and doing different things that will make us a better team."

One option often explored by losing teams is a coaching change.

Olczyk said he speaks with Patrick and Lemieux daily.

"I'd rather not say what they tell me in private, but trust me, I know what's at stake and I'm doing everything in my power that I can to help us win," he said.

"The respect that I have for them as people is something that's real special. I know that they are my bosses, and I have to do my job. I understand that."

Olczyk, who is in his third season as a coach and second season coaching with the Penguins after sitting out last year because of the lockout, said he believes in his abilities and in his players, and for now he has upper management on his side.

"I believe they have confidence in me, and that's all that matters," he said.

Except, of course, for wins.

If the Penguins return home Nov. 10 from their five-game journey with little concrete improvement, there's no telling what changes might be in store or who might be missing from the picture.

"You know what? I wouldn't want to be in any other situation because I believe in what we're trying to do, and we have the guys that can do it," Olczyk said.

"Now it's up to me to get them to do it."

First published on November 1, 2005 at 12:00 am
Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.