Penguins may be watching a miracle

Pittsburgh Penguins fans may be in the middle of a watching a miracle happen.

Kevin Constantine, who guided the Penguins to a respectable 86-68-25 during the last two seasons, was fired by Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick and replaced by veteran coach Herb Brooks.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. Brooks was the coach of the 1980 Olympic team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Patrick was an assistant to Brooks on that team, so it should come to no surprise that Brooks is getting another shot at coaching in Pittsburgh. The Penguins started the season a dismal 8-14-3, and Constantine - as well as assistants Mike Eaves, Don Jackson and Troy Ward - were the scapegoats.

The Penguins have no business being in the position that they are in right now, which is 11th in the Eastern Conference. With players like Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso, the Penguins have a nucleus of players that should be able to compete with the rest of the conference.

Remember back to last year's Eastern Conference playoffs, where Pittsburgh disposed of top seed New Jersey on their way to the semifinals. Brooks inherits a good team that, with a little tinkering, can make some noise the rest of the season.

After the Olympics, Brooks coached in New York, Minnesota and New Jersey with little success, but has always been known as the "miracle worker" because of the shocking victory against the Russian National team. Brooks will have the blessing of Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux, but he will not have much of a bank account to improve the team.

Lemieux promised Penguins stockholders that he would keep the payroll under $30 million while also keeping ticket prices reasonable. Brooks will be called on to generate more offense while Barrasso is still on the injured list, and he also has to make sure that Jagr is being used to his full capabilities.

Getting the Penguins to mesh and finding the right style of play may take a while, but if anyone can, it is Brooks.

Brooks is now coaching in one of the most beloved hockey towns in the NHL. Lemieux and Jagr brought two Stanley Cups to Steeltown in 1991 and 1992. The real problems that the Penguins have had were off the ice.

Two bankruptcies have really hurt the franchise, but with Lemieux now in place as the owner, hopefully those days are over.

In his first four games with the Penguins, Brooks is undefeated and playing a more aggressive style of defense. Keep an eye on the Penguins, as there may be another "miracle" on the way.

n In some sad coaching news, Philadelphia Flyers head man Roger Nielson has been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and will undergo extended chemotherapy.

Nielson, 65, is not expected to miss any games and said he will continue to coach as long as he feel good and he is not harming the team. The type of cancer he has is said to be incurable, but not life threatening.

Nielson is ninth in career wins with 431 while coaching seven teams, although he has never won a Stanley Cup.

n Has anybody missed Dominik Hasek this season? The Buffalo Sabres haven't.

After starting the season a miserable 1-7-1, the Sabres have crawled back into the eighth playoff spot in the East. They are currently 13-14-4 and have an 11-game winner in goaltender Martin Biron.

Biron was said to be the next goalie in line after Hasek retired, but with Hasek going down with a hamstring injury, Biron was thrusted into the starting position for the defending Eastern Conference champions.

As Buffalo continues to claw its way back to respectability, it will be with a rookie goaltender instead of "The Dominator."

n And finally, just as Florida Panthers goaltender Trevor Kidd was having a dynamite season, something strange happened this past week.

Kidd was participating in a skills competition when he was struck by a puck and broke his arm. Kidd's 13 wins is second in the league ,and his save percentage of .932 is tops in the league.

It will be interesting to see how Florida does without Kidd in the lineup, although Mikhael Shtalenkov should be able to provide Florida with more than adequate goaltending.

Trevor Smith is the Nevada Appeal hockey columnist.


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