PITTSBURGH - Former player Eddie Olczyk was out and disciplinarian Michel Therrien was in as the Pittsburgh Penguins' coach Thursday, and a couple of minutes of practice quickly revealed the differences between the two.
There were no sloppily run drills, no casual puck shooting, no scrimmages that looked like pickup games. The country club was closed, and it was time for hockey boot camp.
It was culture shock for a team that has long prided itself on developing creative players and not systems. But the Penguins' 8-17-6 record was an even bigger shock to a franchise convinced it has Stanley Cup-contending talent, and it brought down a coach who had no previous coaching experience and, for much of his short career, looked like it.
"Losing is always depressing," Penguins forward Ryan Malone said, "but we've been embarrassing."
Since Olczyk moved from the TV booth to behind the bench in 2003-04, the Penguins are 31-68-14 with losing streaks of 18 games and nine games. They played so badly while losing eight of their last nine, with losses of 5-0 to Minnesota and 3-0 to St. Louis, rookie star Sidney Crosby suggested they all but quit.
"There's no hiding the fact the last couple of games we weren't there, we weren't even in it," Crosby said.
General manager Craig Patrick, who hired Olczyk without a search nearly three years ago, called the recent losses "disturbing," but said they reflected the laissez-faire attitude and indifference the Penguins have shown all season and can no longer tolerate.
Show it under Therrien, the former Montreal Canadiens coach, and Patrick said they will be ex-Penguins.
"You're going to do it his way or not going to play, and from what I've seen this year we need that," Patrick said. "We all believe we have the ability here."
Hiring a coach who requires a strict adherence to a disciplined system at both ends of the ice once might have made Mario Lemieux rebel. Now that he's the player-owner and it's partly his dollars that are being squandered on non-producing players such as defenseman Sergei Gonchar ($25 million, five years), Lemieux endorsed firing his close friend.
"Players are responsible for going on the ice and at least making an effort and, if you don't have that, it's difficult," said Lemieux. "The guy we've got is totally different."
Therrien made that clear, telling the players - 10 of whom played for him at the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club - the attitude must change beginning with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against Buffalo.
After that, he will spend five consecutive off days installing the same system he used to get Wilkes-Barre off to a 25-1-2-1 start, the best in AHL history. That system stresses possessing the puck, protecting the goaltender and playing tight defense - all of which the Penguins do poorly.
"We need to have a winning attitude, and do what winners do to win," said Therrien, who has a three-year contract. "There's a price to pay, and it's part of my duty to make sure those guys pay that price."
Therrien made one noticeable lineup change, moving Crosby back to center on a line with Lemieux and Ziggy Palffy. Crosby has 31 points in 31 games but only one goal in eight games while mostly playing on the wings. you."
Therrien, 77-77-13-13 as Montreal's coach from 2000-03, is the Penguins' sixth coach since 1999, joining Kevin Constantine, the late Herb Brooks, the late Ivan Hlinka, Rick Kehoe and Olczyk.
All have worked under Patrick, who accepted much of the blame for the current, ill-fitting mix of mostly underperforming veterans (Gonchar, John LeClair, Palffy, Mark Recchi, Jocelyn Thibault) and promising new players (Crosby, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Maxime Talbot).
"We look pretty on paper but what are we? What are we?" said Patrick, who insists the Penguins have time to get back into playoff contention. "I don't know, but we're going to find out."
Penguins assistant coaches Joe Mullen and Randy Hillier also were fired, as were goaltending coach Shane Clifford and strength coach John Welday. Therrien brought his Wilkes-Barre staff with him - assistant Mike Yeo, strength coach Stephane Dube and goaltending consultant Gilles Lefebvre.