CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa — Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager is nervous. His team is in a battle simply to make the playoffs and it has the GM worried.
The Penguins currently have as many points as the Carolina Hurricanes but have one less win. They trail the Columbus by one point for third place in the Metro Division and trail the Montreal Canadiens by one point for the other Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
The Pittsburgh Penguins 11-year playoff streak is in jeopardy. They’re currently out of the playoffs.
“We’re good enough to get in. We’re good enough to take a run. We’ve played in stretches of time against top teams, and we’ve played well,” Rutherford said. “There are some inconsistencies in our play and we have to have everything going–that makes you a good team.”
“I feel comfortable with this team; I say that at this time with being a little bit nervous whether we’ll get in. It’s going to be a battle to get in.”
If the Penguins general manager is nervous, fans will be forgiven for outright panic. The Penguins have three of their next six games against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A couple of losses could or wins could create separation. The Penguins could be left behind by the top three in the division or they could assert themselves.
And the Penguins will begin their battles with Columbus without top defensemen pair Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin. Both were injured on the same play late in the first period of the Stadium Series game Saturday in Philadelphia. Dumoulin was hit by Wayne Simmonds and Letang was tackled (or an RKO as termed by the Philadelphia bench) by Philadelphia defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
Mike Sullivan sounded encouraged by the lack of seriousness to Letang’s injury. Sullivan said Letang would be evaluated daily. However, Rutherford was less committal about the status of his defensemen also including Olli Maatta.
“Obviously, we have issues on defense with injuries,” said Jim Rutherford. “I don’t really know what the status is on some of these guys.”
The Penguins could have Letang and Dumoulin back quickly, or the injuries could stretch into a couple of weeks. But that is just one issue which is worrying Rutherford and Penguins fans. Murray said he “felt like shit,” after allowing a couple of late, soft goals Saturday. And, the Penguins forwards haven’t exactly been models of defensive awareness.
“Our goaltending has to be consistent and strong. We have to get healthy on defense. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend. And our forwards have to do what they’re capable of doing.”
The Penguins dealt struggling forward Tanner Pearson for hulking defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Monday. Pearson was part of the Penguins wingers including Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Dominik Simon who have only one combined goal this month.
That goal belonged to the now departed Pearson.
In the meantime, the Penguins are set to recall Zack Trotman, whom Rutherford said will play tomorrow night.
Trotman, 28, has played 70 career NHL games, including three for the Penguins, last season. In 24 games for the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Trotman has five points (1g, 4a).
He will be an emergency option. Penguins rookie defenseman Juuso Riikola also figures to draw back into the lineup.
But neither of those additions, nor Gudbranson will make Rutherford and especially Penguins fans any less nervous.