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Orpik says Pens' coaching change was needed

PITTSBURGH -- Brooks Orpik knew the upheaval was inevitable. The rugged Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman from East Amherst saw the team collapsing from within, and he knew the implosion wasn't any prettier from the outside, either.

The Penguins, considered a Stanley Cup contender before the season, had a conference-low eight victories when they axed coach Ed Olczyk and his staff Wednesday night. Tight-fisted bench boss Michel Therrien made his NHL return Friday night in Mellon Arena with the first of back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres.

Olczyk's players had become known as nonchalant at best, quitters at worst.

"You go back a couple years to when we had half the talent you got here, if that, but the guys were working hard and having fun," Orpik said. "That wasn't going to happen here with the effort we were putting in. That was even more difficult for people to watch with all the names that were brought in and the money that was being spent."

The Penguins made several key acquisitions since the 2003-04 season, not the least of which was the summer's top draft pick, Sidney Crosby. General Manager Craig Patrick also added Ziggy Palffy, Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Sergei Gonchar and Lyle Odelein to Mario Lemieux's roster.

Olczyk, Lemieux's good buddy, who had no prior coaching experience, gave his players a long leash. A country-club atmosphere permeated the Penguins.

"Edzo was in it for the players, but I think maybe he let the guys get too comfortable," Orpik said. "It was one of his strengths and one of his faults at the same time.

"He was passionate, and he treated us with the utmost respect. I think maybe he gave us too much respect as players. Guys kind of took advantage of it, and it's a lot easier to fire a coach than replace half a team."

Therrien, the former Montreal Canadiens coach who was guiding the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, was brought in to crack the whip. Therrien is known as a strict structuralist, and Orpik said Therrien is the man for the job.

"A lot of guys are in for a rude awakening," said Orpik, who played a few games for Therrien in 2003-04. "If you're winning and working hard it's fun. If not, then it won't be fun. That's how it should be at this level, when you're getting paid this much money to play a game."

Orpik, in his fourth pro season, attended Nichols before transferring to prep hockey powerhouse Thayer Academy in suburban Boston and enrolling at Boston College -- almost the same path his little brother took.

The Sabres drafted Andrew Orpik in the seventh round of this summer's draft. Andrew Orpik, who attended Williamsville North prior to Thayer, is a freshman forward at BC.

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Lemieux returned nine days after being taken to the hospital with a racing heartbeat. He was placed at left wing with center Crosby and right wing Palffy, who had been sidelined four games with a groin injury. Andre Roy played for the first time after the winger missed 23 games because of a broken eye socket.

Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin missed his second game with a broken right pinky finger. Goalie Ryan Miller and enforcer Andrew Peters were healthy scratches.

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All tickets are gone for today's game against the Penguins in HSBC Arena, making it the third sellout of the season.

Some schedules might list the wrong start time. The opening faceoff was moved to 5 p.m. so fans could watch the Buffalo Bills play the Denver Broncos in Orchard Park.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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