Penguins GM Jim Rutherford contemplates big changes amid slow start: ‘Maybe we need to change it up’

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a perennial NHL playoff team, but GM Jim Rutherford is frustrated with the way they’ve started this year. They have 15 points in this young season after a loss to the Capitals on Wednesday night, and they dropped to a tie for fourth in the standings. At times the team has looked fantastic, but long droughts have marred their early season.

On his radio show on the Penguins’ flagship station, via Pro Hockey Talk, Rutherford blasted the Penguins for their start, ultimately contemplating whether or not changes would be necessary.

We really believed coming out of camp we were a contending team. We start those first four or five games and we were very inconsistent, then we played very well for four games, and then we went back to being a bad team where we didn’t play well at all. We have the players that can work through it. Sometimes they can. Sometimes they can’t. I wonder if this group has been together for too long and maybe we need to change it up, but that’s what I will watch for in the next game games.

It appears, however, that to Rutherford the issue lies within the Penguins’ depth.

It’s almost like the guys come to the games and say, ‘Let’s just let the top guys do it.’ Let’s let Sid (Sidney Crosby), Geno (Evgeni Malkin), Phil (Kessel) and (Kris) Letang carry us. We’ll just get through the game and move on to the next game. Forget about the work ethic it takes or forget about the role they play. But when those top players aren’t getting it done, whether they’re shut down or they’re just not having a good game, that’s when we need those other guys to come in and contribute and help win games. We’re not getting it.

The Penguins are currently tied for 12th in the NHL with 46 goals scored. The Penguins’ top four are currently the only players on the team with double digit points, with Malkin leading the Penguins with 20. Jake Guentzal is the fifth man with nine.

It didn’t stop there either. Of the Penguins’ goalie situation of Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith, he said: “In the two years we won the Cup we were playing at times the way we are playing now. But between (Marc-Andre) Fleury and Murray they were phenomenal in goal. They were hard to score against. That is not what we’re getting now. We are getting inconsistent goaltending.”

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom, mind you. The Penguins took four of six games on a Canada road trip earlier in the season, featuring a four-game winning streak. That’s the energy that Rutherford wants back.

“We went through Canada, it was a great trip where the guys came together, that team chemistry that we’ve been looking for even from last year, it was really strong and it was all coming together,” he said. “It was almost like when we cleared customs coming back into the United States, we left it all there.”

It’s entirely possible that this is a speed bump that’s coming at an inopportune time, but the recent firings of John Stevens and Joel Quenneville may have Rutherford feeling shifty about two-time Stanley Cup winner Mike Sullivan. It’s unlikely he’d pull the trigger any time soon — Sullivan did win the Cup in two consecutive seasons — but seeing tenured championship-caliber coaches go down may be causing a ripple effect. The Penguins may figure it out, however, they need to do it soon or we could see a different looking team on the ice in Pittsburgh in the near future.

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