CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – If the Pittsburgh Penguins players were upset over a tongue-lashing issued about them this week by general manager Jim Rutherford, they weren’t showing it Friday after a practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Rutherford’s comments, on his regular every-other-week radio show, came Wednesday after the team had lost four games in a row. A few hours later, the Penguins made it five straight, dropping a 2-1 decision at Washington — albeit with an effort they thought was much better.
“He’s trying to do his job,” center Evgeni Malkin said of Rutherford. “Our job is to be here in the locker room, support each other. Step on the ice and try to play a great game. Of course he’s not happy. Five games we lost. He sent a message. We understand he’s not happy. We all understand.”
Rutherford criticized the team for being stale and promised changes if he did not see improvement.
“Certainly if this continues, in short order, we’re going to have to make some changes. … We’re not playing with any energy or determination. We’re just trying to get through the games,” he said. “These other teams are coming and outworking us. They deserve to beat us. In some of these games, they probably deserve to beat us worse than the score indicates. … It’s very concerning.”
Even bolder, Rutherford threatened sweeping changes.
“Has this team been together too long?” he said. “It’s something I always have to watch for. When do you have to make those changes? The players are doing everything they can to tell me now’s the time.”
Team captain Sidney Crosby said he had not heard Rutherford’s comments, but when given some highlights he, like Malkin, was understanding.
“I’m sure he was upset like all of us,” Crosby said. “We don’t like being in this position. But as players our job is to go out there and play. We played a pretty good game the last game. It doesn’t make up for the previous one. We have to move by games sometimes, and if we play like we did last game, then we’ll be heading in the right direction and we’ll get rewarded.”
Asked about the possibility of breaking up what is a tight-knit group, Crosby didn’t flinch.
“I think we’re all motivated. I think we all understand that the expectations are high,” he said. “When things aren’t going right, there’s always going to be questions. As a general manger, he’s got to evaluate and identify things. He’s got to do his job, and we respect that and understand it as players.
“But we’ve got to go out there and play and do the best we can and make it a lot easier on him. It’s a lot easier when you’re winning games. That’s up to us.”
Rutherford suggested that players who have received strong contract extensions – perhaps Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin – as well as those playing for a bump-up contract after this season – perhaps Carl Hagelin and Riley Sheahan – are playing differently because of those contract situations.
“We’ve got some young guys that won a couple [Stanley Cups], then they get bigger contracts, and they kind of settle in,” Rutherford said. “They forget what got them to where they are today.
“Then we have some guys on the team who are working toward a contract next offseason. So they maybe change their game. They maybe think scoring more goals or getting more points is what’s going to get them more money. They get away from their game, what their role is. I see that happening with some of the guys on both ends of my point here.”
“For me, you just take it as his opinion. He’s the one who’s got to make the decisions around here. You’ve got to take that with a grain of salt. I think it does motivate guys. You’ve got to work a little harder.
“For whatever reason it might be, I don’t think guys want to see movement, whether it’s players traded or up and down (from the minor leagues). Guys don’t want to see that. That motivates everyone.”
Practice update: Brassard skates
Injured center Derrick Brassard had a vigorous workout on the ice before practice. He has an undisclosed injury that has sidelined him for six games.
Sullivan confirmed it was Brassard’s first time on the ice since he got hurt and called it a big step.
Everyone else was a full participant in practice.
Here’s Crosby speaking to the media after practice about GMJR’s comments.
Here’s Malkin speaking to the media on the same subject.