PITTSBURGH – Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk was fired in the midst of one of the most disappointing starts in franchise history and replaced by former Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.

Olczyk, a former team broadcaster and player who had no coaching experience before being hired in 2003, was dismissed following a run of eight losses in nine games that dropped Pittsburgh’s record to 8-17-6, worst in the Eastern Conference.

Only St. Louis (6-17-4) has fewer wins in the NHL, and general manager Craig Patrick decided to fire Olczyk after a string of dismally played losses in the last week.

Patrick said it became obvious during a 5-0 loss to Minnesota last Thursday that the players were tuning Olczyk out and no longer respected him, and the situation got only worse during losses to Detroit (3-1) on Monday and St. Louis (3-0) on Tuesday.

“The Minnesota loss was very disturbing – the team had shown its face and for whatever reason they weren’t listening,” Patrick said.

But Patrick also faulted himself and the players, and he acknowledged the blend of newer players such as super prospect Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and old-line stars such as John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy and Jocelyn Thibault wasn’t working. He promised more changes if there isn’t a fast turnaround under Therrien.

“I can’t say why,” Patrick said when asked why the players didn’t respond to Olczyk. “But we’re going to find a solution.”

The 39-year-old Olczyk is the first NHL coach to be fired since the league resumed play following a one-season labor impasse.

Therrien, who coached the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club to a 21-1-2-1 record that represents the best start in AHL history, ran Penguins practice Thursday and will coach his first NHL game since the 2002-03 season Friday night against Buffalo. He was 77-77-13-13 as Montreal’s coach from 2000-03.

Therrien. 42, will bring a much more disciplined approach to a team that has been criticized for its lazy work habits and inability to stick to a system. He emphasizes controlling the puck and creating turnovers in the transition game, and doesn’t hesitate to call out players when they’re not performing.

“He’s a no-nonsense guy and it’s either his way or you don’t play – and from what I see, we definitely need that,” Patrick said.

The Penguins were a league-worst 23-47-8-4 during Olczyk’s first season in 2003-04, including an 18-game losing streak. But the pressure on Olczyk to begin winning increased when the Penguins won the NHL draft lottery in July and chose Crosby, considered Canada’s best prospect since Penguins owner-player Mario Lemieux.

But the Penguins got off to a terrible start by losing their first nine games. Lemieux also had another medical setback, being diagnosed last week with a heart disorder. Crosby has averaged a point a game but also has been slumping with only one goal in eight games.

“We look pretty on paper, but what are we? What are we?” Patrick said. “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.”

This is the fourth time Patrick has fired a coach during the season.

Therrien replaced Alain Vigneault as Montreal’s coach on Nov. 20, 2000 but was fired and replaced by Claude Julien on Jan. 17, 2003.

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.

AP-ES-12-15-05 1145EST

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