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Kingerski: Ready or Not, Hextall Needs to Shake Up Penguins

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Power play

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a great team. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a terrible team. Evgeni Malkin is an all-world player. Some nights he is not. The Penguins have entered a maddeningly frustrating world of inconsistency and shortfalls of their own doing, and it appears the only way out is with change.

Things are not trending the right way, either. Two of the last three games have been two of their worst efforts of the season. And sandwiched in the middle was their best. Tada! The Penguins are in fifth place and not gaining traction.

NO, we are not suggesting the Penguins trade Malkin or Kris Letang. No, no, no, and no. And no matter how many negative comments pile on social media, Malkin and maybe Letang will stay as long as they want. Stop wasting your breath otherwise.

Also, be careful of confirmation bias. Malkin is in the crosshairs, and every mistake or misgiving is amplified 10x, but the Penguins’ problems are not his alone.

The Penguins inconsistency was cited by Hextall nearly two weeks ago when he announced new AGM Chris Pryor. Head coach Mike Sullivan has repeated it so often a cardboard cutout with a voice track could do his postgames.

“We just didn’t play the game hard enough or smart enough,” Sullivan said Thursday night after the Penguins faceplanted in a 4-3 loss to Philadelphia.

The Penguins have now turned in far too many performances unworthy of a playoff team. Far too much “not hard enough” or “not smart enough.”

The team can tout their third period comeback record this season. They have nine wins when tied or trailing after two periods. But that also means they were behind. Given their three wins while behind after two periods and their nine losses this season, that means in 22 games, they’ve trailed 11 times after 40 minutes.

They’ve trailed or been tied after two periods, 17 times in 22 games.

Yikes.

Yet, they can also look like a team ready to make one last run. When the team is clicking, it is something to behold—maddening, frustrating inconsistency. “If I had an answer for you, I’d fix it,” Sullivan deadpanned. “It’s frustrating from the coach’s standpoint because I know we’re capable of more consistent play, but we haven’t found it yet. Some nights, when we play hard, we play committed, and we play the right way and work together, we’re a competitive hockey team.

And then, for whatever reason, other nights, we get away from it.”

After 22 games, just six games shy of halfway, the Penguins are what they are. There is no more sugar-coating or waiting until everyone is healthy.

And if you’re only good enough sometimes, you’re not good enough, period. It seems a Penguins trade, a shakeup, is the only shot.

Ready or not, GM Ron Hextall has to shake up the team.

Most GMs would prefer to wait, get a real sense or feel of the team, go through a thorough evaluation and analysis. Sure, before Hextall makes his first Penguins trade, he would prefer to take the prudent, patient, cautious approach.

But if he does, the Penguins will miss the playoffs.

The New York Islanders are on a six-game point streak. The Penguins could trail the Philadelphia Flyers by as much as six points with a game to go on Saturday.

And, yes, yes, the Penguins still have 16 games with the hapless Buffalo Sabres and the toothless New Jersey Devils. What makes you think the Penguins will do as well as Washington, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia have already done against those teams?

There isn’t a shred of evidence the Penguins have the spark or the energy to be a playoff team. They too often can’t show up for the first two periods of games they win. After a four-game flatline in August when all of the chips were on the table and a 22-game start this season which mirrors August., the mirror doesn’t lie.

If this season is truly the last gasp, the last stand for the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins core, and they are in WIN NOW mode, they Hextall is needed.

The Penguins need a shakeup.

This season is also eerily similar to the dipsy-do, up and down, slumber of the 2018-19 season. Then-GM Jim Rutherford was angry and let it be known publicly. He felt the team took things for granted. He was right, so in November, he traded part of the Penguins heart, Carl Hagelin, for Tanner Pearson.

The move didn’t work, and Pearson was little more than background wallpaper on the 8mm home movies of the Penguins slide to the mediocrity. But Rutherford was in the right church, just the wrong pew.

The Penguins don’t have many untouchable secondary pieces left. Jake Guentzel and probably Bryan Rust. P.O. Joseph. And maybe John Marino, who has also been inconsistent this season.

Inconsistent teams have inconsistent players. That’s the only answer that fits. There isn’t a coaching problem or a lack of talent. There is an abundance of inconsistent players.

The NHL trade deadline is April 12. That’s five weeks.

There are players with big shoulders and mean streaks out there. We found a couple who could be on the Penguins trade wishlist.

Time is short. Not because the deadline is in five weeks, but because the Penguins could well be an afterthought by then. Unfortunately, losing now doesn’t improve the Penguins’ first-round draft selection, either. That pick belongs to Minnesota for Jason Zucker.

Ready or not, Ron Hextall, you’re up.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Bruce Rhodes
Bruce Rhodes
7 months ago

Thanks for this article. GMJR left Hextall with very little to work with. I’ll save my rant about GMJR doing an abysmal job the last few seasons after knocking it out of the park in the Cup years. How safe is Sullivan? I wonder if that is the first place Hextall looks.

Iwasiam
Iwasiam
7 months ago

Seams like the last few years the Pens played at their best when key players are hurt and worst when everyones healthy. They have what it takes but with know real time to practice how do they fix it? Adding or subtracting players isn’t going to help so just play out the year and hope for lots of injuries….not serious ones though.
Oh and trade but dont trade Geno…wink wink

Big B
Big B
7 months ago

Jake is not safe, it would take a ton but it could be done.Hextall’s opinion may be 180 degrees different than the rest of the Pens world.Marino is not safe either and the same can be said for P.O JO.They won’t be traded for rentals but lets say Calgary call with Monahan for Jake or Ramus Andersson for Marino it could happen. If the team is getting a shakeup more than a scrub has to go.It has to be the coach or a top 6 player or a good D-Man like Dummo or Marino.My choice would be Malkin but that… Read more »

Cal
Cal
7 months ago
Reply to  Big B

Andersson for Marino in a heartbeat.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

“Torts” has much bigger fans than me, but here is one thing with which I now reluctantly agree. They are an arrogant franchise. To the boys in black and gold . . . you are not all that anymore. I am allowing for the freakish situation created by the virus, but if you look at the league standings this morning you will see . .. Edmonton; Montreal; Carolina; Florida; Chicago; Columbus and Minnesota all have as many or more points. And Arizona; LA and Calgary are not that far off. Three or four years ago the Penguins would have expected… Read more »

Big B
Big B
7 months ago

Rusty might go as well depending on the long term return.Cue the crying that Rust is so great we can’t trade him but it is about the best team not your favorite player.

Steve
Steve
7 months ago
Reply to  Big B

Case in point, huge Hornqvist fan here. The Pens miss him terribly, but I understand the logic in the trade. Verdict still out on who won that trade, but Florida is doing a lot of winning.

jackw
jackw
7 months ago

“If I had an answer for you, I’d fix it,” Sullivan deadpanned. If we’re being honest, this should be a major red flag, and it has nothing directly to do with the players. This doesn’t mirror 2018 – although that year was where GMJR ripped the wheels off the bus – it mirrors the last days of the Johnston tenure. Zucker has not nearly delivered what we gave up for him, and doesn’t mesh with Malkin. Marino and Joseph have established themselves enough to be considered untouchable, and let’s not forget the “but he won 2 Cups!” Murray saga –… Read more »

PensPatty
PensPatty
7 months ago

This team is bi polar…..never know what you’re gonna get from them….new asst coaches stink and their pk and pp systems are worse than they were which isn’t saying much….Rierdon was SUPPOSED to bring solid defense strategies….but they’re worse than ever….UGH….

Katz
Katz
7 months ago

For starters; 1) Sullivan make a statement finally. Kapanen isn’t the only player to be singled out. You have an answer Mike. You choose who plays on the PP don’t you? You choose who to sit a shift or two don’t you? What are you afraid of? Sulking? Revolt of the stars? Time to act like a Coach who understands this is not acceptable for players making huge money. 2) if Rierden can’t improve the PP then take the reins yourself and make bold decisions. You don’t have much leverage but you do have self respect. Go down fighting for… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Katz
Jack
Jack
7 months ago

Inconsistent players are the coaching problem. It’s a job Of the coach to resolve inconsistencies.

Big B
Big B
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Move the player.

daniel
daniel
7 months ago

Why not trade Malkin?

Katz
Katz
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Yes Dan that’s been true. However that should not stop Sullivan from making changes to the PP . Just going with the same ol same ol and expecting different results is as Einstein said ‘insanity’ . And isn’t that fair criticism of Sullivan? An argument could be made that PP contributed mightily to yesterday’s loss.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
7 months ago

I have always been a big Mike Sullivan fan, and I think he’s a fantastic coach. But sometimes a new voice is needed, no matter how talented the current coach is. This group just can’t stay in it. His message isn’t being heard. In my opinion there is not much he can do to fix the problems that this team has. Unfortunately it is out of his hands. We have now seen this happen three times. They tuned out Therrien, and Byslma came in and calmed down the room. Cup. They tuned out Bylsma and Sullivan came in and re-energized… Read more »

Steve
Steve
7 months ago

I am not dismissing what you say, as you make valid points, but I see several people calling for Gallant. Why? Is he really a better option than Sullivan? I don’t think he is.

Lisa Nath
Lisa Nath
7 months ago

Pens are certainly a perplexing team . I thought that hagelin trade was a disaster at the time, it was like a dad punishing his teenager because he could . What would you have done that season instead? We could certainly use hornqvist right now too.

Tom P
Tom P
7 months ago

I couldn’t watch most of the game last night, due to a work commitment, but I was following it on line. When my son told me it was 3-0 with around 5 minutes left in the first, I didn’t think I was missing much. As it turns out, I was right, but for a different reason. There was a game a few seasons ago against the Caps that the Penguins won 8-7. As I recall, there was a point in that game where the Caps were up by 3 goals, before the Penguins came back. If we had lost that… Read more »

Alan Smith
7 months ago

It is the virus Cup folks! They are not playing a real season! They have made a transition to youth and some size as well! They are just entertainment! Shoot outs and three on three stinks! Pull the goalie is also a joke! Just entertainment! Did you see the Tampa parade? Not!

T. Stancliff
T. Stancliff
7 months ago

I think malkin is about done..why sullivan put him in to take a vital faceoff in last nights game just prior to philly scoring the winning goal. Been watch malkin on faceoff, hes terrible at it..but yet he was put in to take that important one. Talk about a dumb move

Edgar
Edgar
7 months ago

The Penguins are 5-9-8 in regulation. I get a little sad when we focus on not working hard enough. Because although that may be an issue, the truth is the team just isn’t good enough. Hasn’t been for awhile.

Greg Emslie
Greg Emslie
7 months ago

Prior to that game against Philly where they blew a 3 point lead they were tied for the most wins in the division with 12 They had 1 more win than Philly at 11 yet they were tied in points Yes Pens need to improve but all the OTL points other team have gotten against the Pens this year is killing them what sport gives you a point for a loss Come on NHL

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[…] Ron Hextall is early into his Penguins tenure, but it might already be time for a shakeup. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

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