Connect with us


Here’s What Concerns Burke About Penguins’ Season



Pittsburgh Penguins Brian Burke

Brian Burke knows where the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings.

He readily acknowledges that they have been hamstrung by inconsistency this season, and says Ron Hextall is “looking hard” for a trade to enhance their chances of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 17th consecutive season.

But despite all of that — and everything else that has contributed to their disappointing 24-16-9 record with 2 1/2 months remaining in the regular season — Burke, who is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations, offered an unexpected assessment of the club Tuesday.

“I’m sure people will be scratching their heads when they hear this, but I’m proud of this team,” he said. “I’m proud that we’ve hung in there the way we have, with the injuries we’ve had. Without grading your players — not saying this guy is worth more than that guy — just based on ice time, the number of games we’ve played with our whole right side (of the defense) gone, the number of games we’ve played with our top two right-shot defensemen out, (Jeff) Petry and (Kris) Letang. These are 25-, 28-minute guys who are gone.

“It’s not just man-games lost. It’s who those man-games are that’s gone, who forfeits those man-games. If you look at the lineup, with (Tristan Jarry) being out and the (defensemen) being out, different players being out, I think it’s remarkable that our players have hung in there like they have.”

His optimistic perspective on what has transpired since October notwithstanding, Burke said the Penguins have to find a way to be more consistent — both within games and from game-to-game — than they have been for most of 2022-23.

“The one concern I have with our team is, we’re streaky,” he said. “And streaky is a nice way of saying ‘inconsistent.’ We’re streaky by period and we’re streaky by game, and that’s not our trademark. Pittsburgh Penguins hockey is not streaky. That means you have poor periods and poor games.

“We win five and lose eight, lose six, lose four-in-five. That’s not our formula. It’s not our recipe. We’ll have a really poor first period, then a really good second period. That’s not our recipe. That’s the one concern I’ve had. We’ve got to be more consistent for 60 minutes, in my opinion, if we want to have a good second half.”

Burke cited “resilience” as one of the Penguins’ most striking qualities, and praised the way that members of the supporting cast filled their roles at various points in the season.

“When our key guys get shut down, other people have stepped up,” he said. “So on nights when Sid (Crosby) doesn’t step up, or (Evgeni Malkin) doesn’t step up — fortunately for us, they’re rare — on those days, a Brock McGinn will chip in, or a Danton Heinen will chip in.”

He did not dispute, however, that the Penguins’ bottom-six forwards — especially those on the third line — have not been providing the offensive output expected of them.

The No. 3 line currently consists of McGinn, who doesn’t have a point in 16 games, Teddy Blueger, who has one goal in 34, and Jeff Carter, who is point-less in 10 and has one conventional 5-on-5 goal (not an empty-netter) since Oct. 20.

“It’s not a concern, in the sense that I’m losing sleep over it, but certainly, for us to have the second half that we need to have, we need that to pick up,” Burke said. “We need our third-line scoring to pick up. And we need to have — like we were having earlier in the season — guys chipping in and stepping up on nights when the big guys weren’t going. That seems that has dried up a bit.”

Whether Hextall is shopping for a third-liner isn’t known, but if he makes any deal, Burke was adamant that it wouldn’t be simply to shake up the Penguins, to try to instill the urgency and focus that often has been missing this season.

“(Hextall) is looking hard, but not to shake the team up,” he said. “We like our group. It’s a tight group. We like them. We’re not looking to make a trade to jar them awake, but it often has that effect, a trade, where it shakes up a team. So it can be therapeutic, but that’s not the intent, why we’re looking at it.”

He also forcefully rejected the idea that Mike Sullivan might be culpable, even to a small degree, for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ up-and-down season to date.

“I think we have a really good coach, and that includes the assistant coaches,” Burke said. “I like our three coaches who are on the bench (Todd Reirden, Mike Vellucci and Ty Hennes). I like Andy Chiodo, on the goaltenders. I like our coaching staff immensely. I think they’re doing a great job.”

He then made it clear that management is as likely to consider a coaching change as the coaches are to install Casey DeSmith on the point of the No. 1 power play.

“The answer is ‘No,’ ” Burke said. “I’m just shy of offended by the question. I’m flabbergasted by the question. And I’m a little annoyed by the question. It’s not been discussed. It’s not an answer. It’s not a solution. And it’s absurd.”