Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford set the Penguins and the Penguins fanbase ablaze on Tuesday afternoon with strong words about his team. He promised changes. Unfortunately, he also promised to keep the status quo, which is the reason for the needed change.
First, Jim Rutherford said, “there is something wrong. Changes need to be made.”
Then, the Hall of Fame GM said, “I plan to move forward with the core (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang). These are good players. They still have good hockey left in them.”
Sullivan is also keeping head coach Mike Sullivan in place behind the bench.
But Rutherford also said, “when things don’t go our way, we start to fizzle out, and we don’t have that same drive and determination that we should have and need to have. Based on that, I’m looking at everything now.”
The statements were made moments apart, but are entirely contradictory to the message Rutherford hoped to send. He is correct; there is a growing and sad trend with the Penguins in which defeat is accepted. It’s easier to say “next year” or “next game” than it is to fight back in the moment.
That’s not looking at everything.
There was a lot more of the lesser Penguins available to see in the arena than on TV, but the lack of additional effort and desperation was nothing to behold. The Penguins had 96 shot attempts in Game 1 and lauded themselves for it. They also didn’t go anywhere near Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price after defenseman Shea Weber began clearing the crease like a bulldozer, and the Penguins lost the game.
The Penguins had a lead in Game 3 and promptly quit. They lost that game, too.
“Perhaps we got a little bit too loose,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after Game 3.
Crosby is a leader, a warrior, and a winner. His performance in the series is unquestioned, but who else?
PHN poked around the Penguins organization before Rutherford napalmed the daisies, and sources told the remarkable story of Crosby and Malkin banding together to keep Malkin in Pittsburgh last summer. We’ve also been told Malkin is every bit as competitive as Crosby.
However, Malkin had one point in four games and was a minus-3.
Letang didn’t have a point in four games, despite the Penguins aching need for offense from the blue line.
As PHN delved into the in-depth analysis of the Penguins power play, the team’s stilted performance, and perfunctory words in Toronto, a theme emerged. The same old same old is now truly old, and that fact didn’t become apparent until we wrote over 15,000 words on the series, asked as many questions as allowed, and participated in every zoom chat.
It all began to feel stale.
Gone is Mike Sullivan’s “Just play,” commandment. Gone is the Penguins’ reformation from an entitled, undisciplined team to a rigid juggernaut.
The thing which has changed the most is not the style of play or the personnel, but the execution and the intensity. During and after the 2019 Round One sweep by the New York Islanders, New York boasted that they only needed to wait for the Penguins to make a mistake.
By Game 4 last year and this year, the Penguins were ready to go home.
The tightly buttoned Montreal Canadiens did much the same as New York; they waited for the Penguins’ mistakes, then broke the Penguins’ spirit. The pushback wasn’t much of a shove.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins choose to keep their trio of players intact and do so out of uncommon loyalty and commune with fans, that’s a distinct decision that should be celebrated for its positives and could be criticized for its negatives. If the Pittsburgh Penguins choose to keep head coach Mike Sullivan behind the bench because he’s an excellent coach with a strong tactical side, that decision too can be praised for its virtue.
But it can’t all be true. The Penguins can’t examine everything, accept the need for change, and not make significant changes.
That’s like trying to beat Carey Price without traffic in front but feeling good about 96 shot attempts.