PITTSBURGH – Michel Therrien says he saw improvement in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ play of late and didn’t expect to be fired as head coach.
Therrien was dismissed Sunday night, after his team fell apart during a Saturday night loss to Toronto. General manager Ray Shero replaced him with minor-league coach Dan Bylsma.
“We had been playing better the past three weeks, I thought,” Therrien said Monday. “I was really encouraged by our team’s attitude and overall defensive play. I thought a (3-1) home stand was a sign we had turned the corner.”
Therrien predicted the Penguins will make the playoffs under Bylsma, who, like Therrien, was the coach at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) before being promoted to Pittsburgh.
Bylsma lost his debut Monday afternoon, 3-2 in a shootout at the lowly New York Islanders. The Penguins remain 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind Florida and Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot.
There were rumblings for weeks that Therrien might be fired despite coaching the Penguins to 94 wins over the past two seasons, including a trip to the Stanley Cup final last year. But Therrien said he was surprised when Shero gave him the news on Sunday.
“I never saw it coming,” Therrien said. “That conversation (with Shero) took about five seconds, to be honest.”
Shero made the change a day after Toronto scored five goals in the third period of its 6-2 win – the non-contending Maple Leafs’ third victory over Pittsburgh in six weeks. Pittsburgh had led 2-1 after the second period.
“That game at Toronto surprised me a lot,” Therrien said. “That wasn’t what I expected from the team. That wasn’t the team I got to know over the past few seasons.”
When Shero replaced Craig Patrick as general manager in 2006, he inherited Therrien. Shero subsequently gave Therrien two contract extensions, even though Shero knew it was common for a GM to hire his own coach.
“I will say with Michel, I really enjoyed the almost three years working together,” Shero said. “He was very loyal to me. When we got together three years ago, I don’t think a lot of people thought that was possible.”
Therrien has two seasons remaining under the contract extension he signed in July.