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Habs coach Therrien reflective in return to Pittsburgh

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Just before being dropped off at the still-new Consol Energy Center on Tuesday morning, Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien looked across Centre Avenue and saw a parking lot on the site where he once coached in a Stanley Cup Final.

"I was asking the taxi driver what they're going to do with that space," the former Pittsburgh Penguins coach said of the site where Mellon Arena once stood. "I've got some great memories from my time there."

For the first time since being fired by the Penguins four years ago, Therrien is back serving as a National Hockey League coach in Pittsburgh. His Canadiens play the Penguins on Tuesday night in a game matching the two teams at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.


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Therrien kept his home in suburban Pittsburgh in between NHL coaching jobs, and he worked as a scout for the Minnesota Wild in the interim. That meant he frequently had a seat in the press box at Consol, a building he called "first-class."

But Tuesday was his first chance to be in the locker rooms at the facility.

"It's going to be different behind the bench, for sure," Therrien said.

Therrien coached the Penguins for parts of four seasons from December 2005 into February 2009, going 135-105-32 and leading the team to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.

Therrien took over a team that was well on its way to its fourth consecutive last-place finish. He had them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the following season and within two wins of claiming the Stanley Cup the next year. His fingerprints were all over a team that won the Cup four months after he was let go in 2009.

"If you remember my first time in Pittsburgh, I had to change the culture a lot because that team was in last place for four years and there was a reason why," Therrien said. "I wanted to make sure when I got here we kept the right attitude to be a winner, and certainly the young guys really bought into it."

Therrien had a similar agenda in taking the helm in Montreal this past winter -- the Canadiens also were coming off a last-place finish. The turnaround has happened even more quickly this time. The Canadiens are 20-6-5 heading into the game against the Penguins (25-8).

"Coming into Montreal, we had a tough season last year -- but it was a different atmosphere and a different market," Therrien said. "But on the other side, you always have to adjust and try to be better as a coach, and it's the same thing with players (anywhere), so it's not different."

Notorious for tough-love tactics and a rigid, disciplined style, Therrien laughs heartily when asked if he's mellowed since his days in charge of the Penguins.

"Maybe," he said. "More gray hair."

Wing Colby Armstrong also laughs when asked if Therrien has mellowed. Armstrong played under Therrien with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League and broke into the NHL during Therrien's first year coaching Pittsburgh. A favorite of Therrien's, it was of little surprise the Canadiens signed Armstrong after hiring Therrien.

"He's been great with the guys here," Armstrong said. "For the most part, we've been playing pretty good hockey, so I'm sure that makes it a little easier, and playing a good team-concept game, and I know that's important to him.

"He's had the same old communication with the guys and had that accountability. But he's been great."

One of Therrien's first moves as Penguins coach seven years ago was designating a new alternate captain -- an 18-year-old rookie named Sidney Crosby.

"I'm sure he's excited to play this game," Crosby said Tuesday. "We already played that first game (in Montreal on March 2); it was kind of weird seeing him with another team. But he's doing a great job over there. They're playing well. Both teams want this win. It should be a pretty exciting, fast-paced game."

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