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Kingerski: Hextall Needs to Make Changes, the Penguins’ Answers are Not In the Room

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Ron Hextall, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang expressed confidence in the players who currently inhabit the locker room. Coach Mike Sullivan did not specifically do so on Saturday night, but repeatedly has said he believes in this group. It’s the right thing to say, but the overwhelming recent evidence suggests the answer is not inside the room, and a Penguins trade is needed.

The problem is that this group has now set a low-water mark, without a win in two weeks. Saturday, they lost to Seattle (again), 3-2. That is seven straight losses, including an OT defeat, which means the Penguins are 0-6-1 since hanging a six-spot on the Columbus Blue Jackets seemingly a lifetime ago. The only thing consistent has been inconsistency, and even struggling teams in Seattle and Vancouver took wins from the Penguins. Seattle did it twice, and the Penguins account for nearly one-third of Seattle’s seven wins in 13 games.

The Penguins have just four wins in 12 games.

“We all stick together. I mean, it is what it is,” said Letang. “We have to get out of it and know it’s going to happen in our room. We have to stay together and pick each other up. So it’s a tough time, and you just have to go to work in practice, correcting the mistakes, forget about everything and just try to clean it up in the next game.”

Tough times are bordering on hard times.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Penguins are one of the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference. They cruised to an easy third-place finish in the Metro Division last season. They thought about breaking up, but in the end, everyone sacrificed to stay together. The big Penguins trade this summer added 40-point defenseman Jeff Petry in place of light-scoring John Marino. They added heavy Jan Rutta on defense in place of the light Chad Ruhwedel.

GM Ron Hextall even scooped up 18-goal Danton Heinen for only a million bucks on the UFA market.

It is supposed to be better than this. Much better. Instead, the Penguins are digging their hole as if there’s oil at the bottom. Only Ottawa and Columbus, on five-game losing streaks, trail the Penguins in the East.

Winning four of their first five games and scoring six goals in each of those wins seems a distant memory. More shockingly, as the Penguins have attempted to turn up the volume on their intensity and play, the music has fallen flat.

If turnovers don’t kill them, the PK does. If they escape bad penalty-killing and puck-management issues, one defensive gaffe ends up in their net.

And through it all, there is a lack of pushback by much of the team, excluding Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust have been the other bright spots up front. Defenseman P.O Joseph has been pleasantly competent and steadily improving. He and defense partner Jan Rutta lead the team in plus/minus.

Marcus Pettersson also has been pretty good.

But the bread isn’t rising. The team isn’t jelling. Worse, the team isn’t winning.

A Penguins trade is in order. The team badly needs help. Expressing confidence is the right thing to say, but there exists no evidence that will happen. The Penguins are what they are, and it’s yet another frustrating moment in a year of Pittsburgh sports frustration.

The Penguins need help, and only GM Ron Hextall can provide it.

In November, 2018, the Penguins had one win in 10 games. Things were bleak, even as the locker room espoused confidence in each other. Former GM Jim Rutherford openly commented that changes were needed and began to make them.

Unfortunately for Rutherford, that first Penguins trade set off a chain reaction of deals that never squared. Several trades followed, which were merely an attempt to fix the last (Rutherford traded Carl Hagelin for Tanner Pearson. Then, later that season, traded Pearson for Erik Gudbranson, and early the next season traded Gubdranson, and so on).

There is danger in making trades and making changes.

There is also danger in leaving a team to its own devices when nothing seems to be working.

The Penguins’ penalty-kill didn’t allow a power-play goal Saturday. Instead, just after time expired, they allowed a 5v5 goal as Brandon Tanev got position on Jake Guentzel and Yanni Gourde beat Brock McGinn to the net, and Brian Dumoulin didn’t provide support. It was essentially a power-play goal because Sidney Crosby was well behind the play after exiting the penalty box. Even if the stat sheet says differently, it was another indictment of the PK.

An otherwise good game was soured when two players relied upon for their defense were not good defensively.

The Penguins’ third line generated a mere two scoring chances on Saturday. In fairness, Jeff Carter was out due to injury, but Carter’s play has also been the subject of discussion and Kasperi Kapanen has turned a strong start into another AWOL stretch. The third line needs help.

Sullivan had so little faith in his fourth line that it played about five minutes. In fairness, Teddy Blueger is out due to injury, but far more is wrong than Blueger’s return can fix.

Hextall does not have a lot of “tradeable” players. Take the top four forwards off the table, from Sidney Crosby to Bryan Rust. Take the top defenseman, Kris Letang, off the table.

Everyone else should be fair game.

Something has to give. The Penguins need help.

And only Hextall can provide it.

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Alexander Olsen
Alexander Olsen
26 days ago

Classic call for trade. I enjoy getting the latest on the penguins but I thank God every day you’re not on management payroll. “ anyone’s on the table aside from four players“. Calm down, I do agree third line sucks

Last edited 26 days ago by Alexander Olsen
maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
25 days ago

lmao post your fan blog link

Jason Kirklin
Jason Kirklin
26 days ago

Changes in the room, changes in the coaching philosophy, changes in lines, changes in ice time for some players….Sullivan has lost the defensive prowlness that the team used to exhibit when we had Martin as an assistant coach. Sullivan relies too much on top 2 lines and lives in his fears versus pushing every player to be their best regardless of skill level. His system is stale and I don’t think he knows how to adjust or is too stubborn to do so. The GM has a decent enough team in front of him, not to say he hasn’t made… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
26 days ago
Reply to  Jason Kirklin

Sullivan has lost the players. His shelf life has expired.Jason I totally agree with all your remarks. We do need a trade or two. Definitely need some grit. The time for Sullivan to stop being STUBBORN is NOW!

Edgar
Edgar
26 days ago

It’s kind of crazy that the most recent run of Penguin success was bookended by Carl Hagelin!

Uros
Uros
26 days ago

I’d trade or place on waivers everything there is in the bottom 6, save for Blueger, McGinn and Kapanen. All of the trades Hextall made seemed beautiful, but, as it turns out, the only quality acquisition was Rutta. I admit, i was over the moon when I saw the team on paper. I’m below ground level now that I’ve seen it on ice. I mean, it’s nice that Petry is a 40 point D man, but I’d rather play any of the 3 remaining even if it’s the off side for some. We could’ve made a fantastic bottom 6 with… Read more »

TopShelf
TopShelf
26 days ago
Reply to  Uros

Kapanen, McGinn, it would be a gift for this team to place both on waivers and be claimed. To be out from those contracts would be a real coop without having to pay someone to take them off your hands.

Uros
Uros
25 days ago
Reply to  TopShelf

Yeah, and then the hypothetical players, who play much better hockey for far less money, would take their place. And then a groundhog wrapped the chocolate… Apart from Heinen, who’s playing above his contract, who of those players whose contracts all fans seem to like, has given a contribution? And don’t say Boyle since he’s one in a thousand. Both ZAR and Tanev were contracts which we needed to get rid of. And also other good players. Did that bring success? But OK, let’s just sit and wait to strike gold with amazing players who play for 800K.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
26 days ago

Nice sentiments but this GM is not impulsive enough to make the right kinds of deals. This team would be in a better place if Rutherford were running the show. We will not find a partner who will take our bad guys for their good ones. We need to be willing to perhaps sacrifice and untouchable to move with some deadwood in order to improve this team. Hextall and Burke will not do this and maybe need to go

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
26 days ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

In order to move a guy like Dumolin, you’re gonna have to go move guys you dont want to move in order to make an effective change. Have to get younger with the core being older.

Last edited 26 days ago by Rich Filardi
Vince Gori
Vince Gori
26 days ago

They cleaned house of hard working PK experts like Aston-Reese and Boyle, and even a possession magnet like Simon. They banished Smith and Friedman to the minors. Not all good decisions. They should have cut ties with Kapanen and Dumoulin and left POJ in the minors. Also, Petry for Matheson hasn’t worked. Although he is hurt. I still don’t feel we are getting our moneys worth with Maikin either.

Knobman
Knobman
26 days ago
Reply to  Vince Gori

I really didn’t think that ZAR would be missed that much, but after what Hextall brought in for the revamped fourth line, ZAR should have been signed. He was overpaid while here, but there was no way he was going to get that money again. Dumo needs to be scratched/traded and try Rutta with Letang. Ruh and POJ can be the third pair. Kappy is invisible and needs to go ASAP. The current fourth line needs to start hitting everything or they can go too. See if AZ or Anaheim will take some of the garbage for players and picks… Read more »

Cj hood
Cj hood
26 days ago

Sully needs to go. Been running the same failing system his entire career. It worked when we were one of the faster teams in the league, but now we’re the literal oldest and one of the slowest. And he refuses to change his system up. It’s time for him to exit before we exit the playoffs in the first round again. Disagree with me if you’d like but you’d be wrong and anyone with 2 working eyes can see our system is failing. Our failing pp and pk are only getting worse, and our 5 on 5 system has failed… Read more »

James
James
26 days ago
Reply to  Cj hood

I completely sympathize with this outlook. It just seems odd that most people don’t want to go anywhere near talking about moving on from Mike Sullivan. I think its because he is such a great coach and the pens have two cups with him, so they look at him through rose colored glasses. But great coaches get let go all the time. I mean Barry Trotz is available for crying out loud. He is the one who was mike Sullivan’s pest for years after those cups! Maybe trading some players will get some things right, but I just think it’s… Read more »

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
26 days ago
Reply to  Cj hood

I agree Sullivan must go!He runs the same system and he no longer has the speed. He really needs to go.

Ethan
26 days ago
Reply to  Cj hood

“Playoffs…We talking about Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!” -Mora Jimbo

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
26 days ago

We definitely need to make a few upgrades to our bottom six. Addition by subtraction if they can get rid of kapanen. Unfortunately he hasn’t scored and he doesn’t exactly fit the tough to play against Montra. They need to get a Brandon tanev type player , someone who plays hard, can pk, check and even score occasionally, but someone who you can trust to play hard D as well. Unfortunately we cannot trust our bottom 6 to score, or play d against the other teams top lines

Brandon O
Brandon O
26 days ago

Hextall was playing 4d chess all along. Fill your team with expensive aging vets and covertly land Bedard in 2023.

Aaron
Aaron
26 days ago

The pens just need to play a little more physical bang someone, don’t leave people wide open at the top of the crease or on the goalies backside. No defense too many rushes rebounds, we have a bunch of proven players the younger teams are gonna bring it its a big deal to them to beat us. Players only meeting get it right don’t point fingers, you guys know how to win, the city and ownership believed in you. Let’s get it done screw the media just play hockey for 60 minutes the pucks will start to go in. We… Read more »

Ethan
26 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Yeah and Penguins just need to start tackling Sea Lions. And Sea Lions just need to stop being such jerks. Not gonna happen unless you dramatically shift the ice…the glacier only calves when you switch coaches or GMs. That is the reality of the round rubber biz. Cruel perhaps, but no crueler than watching sea creatures continue to ping pong with our beloved Guins.

Wes Johnston
Wes Johnston
25 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

One of the players already said it in an interview: “It’s going to happen all of a sudden, and we will all know when it happens.” Or words to that effect.

Frank
Frank
26 days ago

Aside from the physical aspects of sunset players is the emotional/mental part of their game. This team for the most part looks like they may . .. may . .. be willing to do just enough to scratch out a win. But if it gets a little tough and the skating beyond their legs they pretty much just hope for the best. This largely looks like an unemotional mechanical team. Lots of veterans, who do not feel threatened for their poor play and in a city where the franchise has made making them comfortable a mantra. OK, I still think… Read more »

Ernie Lazelli the CrymeBoss

Is this guy serious? Picked up Heinen? Dude he played here last year. Hextall “picked him up” before last season. And Petry Replaced Matheson and Ruuta and Smith were the heavies to supplant 135Lb. Marino. But this team is in major trouble. And their G.M wont trade Draft capital or anyone from Minors “very little of anything” and with what a whopping 87,000 in cap space i think its safe to say BIG TROUBLE. management should of let Rutherford trade either 58 or 71 whichever one he wanted to trade and they wouldn’t let him and he saw the writing… Read more »

T.J. Bunner
T.J. Bunner
25 days ago

People are STILL buying into the conspiracy that Jimmy wanted to trade either Malkin or Letang and that’s why he’s gone?…smh Even though Jim and Penguins ownership has flatly denied this. It had to do with Morehouse telling Rutherford that ANY trade he wanted to make had to go through his office first (mostly because of the recent trades he had made did not work out). Jimmy obviously didn’t like this and they argued in the office…which ended with Jim posting his letter of resignation. Only Yinzers have made it about Geno and Letang

Rich Filardi
Rich Filardi
26 days ago

A tweak here and there isn’t gonna be a long term fix. Hextall really has to go bold and shake his line up in order to really make change & attempt to get a little younger in the process. Just not sure he can do it .

DaGama
DaGama
26 days ago

Hopefully the Pens start clicking and make a good playoff run. If not Hextall is going to feel like a chump for betting the team’s future and his future on aging veterans.

Rob
Rob
25 days ago
Reply to  DaGama

It used to be a cup run, now it’s just making the playoffs and you need a lot of points to make the playoffs with all the good teams now.

Shawn
Shawn
26 days ago

I didn’t mind the Letang signing but thought it was time to move on from Malkin. Also didn’t really like the Petry trade or Kap signing. This team is desperately missing young energy and its showing. For yrs the Pens have fought to maintain status quo but every team needs 1 or 2 youngsters added every year to spice up the lineup.

David Koeck
David Koeck
26 days ago

Time to say goodbye to Sullivan

Stuff
Stuff
26 days ago

Use Kapanen, Dumo and/or McGinn to trade for faster, tougher players. Need more Hags, Boninos, and Daleys on this team.

Virgil Ignace
Virgil Ignace
25 days ago

Get rid of Jarry, trade Petry for a goalie.

Bean
Bean
25 days ago

These are some of the silliest comments I have ever heard. If anyone needs to go it’s Jeff Carter. The funny thing about reading these comments are people get to emotionally invested. If the Pens win the next 7 and lose in the 2nd round this year who’s fault will it be then ? Archibald looks great for the price but according to the expert commenters he was an awfully bad signing. So no one mentions him.

Rob
Rob
25 days ago

Fans were dogging the Pens for picking up Archibald but at least he creates a spark and hits people and is noticeable on the ice.We need more players like that.

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[…] Pittsburgh Hockey Now: Penguins GM Ron Hextall, whose team has a seven-game winless streak, needs to make changes because the answers are not in the locker room, writes Dan Kingerski. Pittsburgh Penguins. […]