Penguins not the same team after Qualifiers loss to Canadiens, GM says


The Pittsburgh Penguins need changes in attitude and personnel after losing their first postseason series for a second straight season, general manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday.

“We get to certain points in playoff series, and we’re not the same team,” Rutherford said after the Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. “We don’t have that same drive as we get closer to elimination. It was so disappointing in Game 4 [against Montreal], to see where we’re at. You’re waiting for the desperation from the drop of the puck, and it didn’t come.

“There’s something wrong. There’s something wrong if you don’t have that drive to win at that point in the series.”

Pittsburgh lost 2-0 in Game 4 on Friday after blowing a two-goal lead in Game 3 and losing 4-3. The Penguins failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Rutherford also didn’t rule out changes to coach Mike Sullivan’s staff, saying he’s “looking at everything now.”

Any changes are not likely to include Sullivan, who helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. On July 5, 2019, he agreed to a four-year contract extension with Pittsburgh that begins at the end of this season and runs through the 2023-24 season.

The coaches deserve credit for Pittsburgh’s regular season, Rutherford said. The Penguins moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division on Feb. 18, overcoming several injuries to key players throughout the season, including center Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery), center Evgeni Malkin (lower body), forward Jake Guentzel (shoulder surgery) and defenseman Brian Dumoulin (ankle surgery).

Video: Lehkonen, Price help Canadiens earn series win

But the Penguins went 3-8-0 in their final 11 regular-season games, falling to fifth in the Eastern Conference at 40-23-6 (.623 points percentage). And Pittsburgh was swept in a best-of-7 series against the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round last season.

The Penguins have lost nine of their past 10 postseason games since defeating the Washington Capitals 3-1 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on May 3, 2018.

“I also have to review what’s happened here at the end of the last two seasons,” Rutherford said. “There’s been a pattern in both seasons. … My concern is when things don’t go our way, then we start to fizzle out. We don’t have that same drive and determination that we should have and that we need to have.”

A likely change could come with either Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry leaving as a restricted free agent during the offseason. They shared the starting goalie role during the season before Murray started the first three games against Montreal.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion lost two of those three starts and had a 2.50 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in the Qualifiers. Jarry replaced him for Game 4, making 20 saves on 21 shots.

“It’s going to be difficult to keep both,” Rutherford said. “Everybody understands that based on the (NHL salary) cap. My assessment of their year is that Tristan had an exceptionally good first half, made the All-Star team. And then Matt was the better goalie in the second half.

“My assessment of our goaltending in the playoffs, our goalies were good. I can’t point the finger at the goalies. The problem we had was the goalie at the other end (Carey Price) was great. That makes a difference.”

Pittsburgh plans to move ahead with its core of Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. In the Qualifiers, Crosby had three points (two goals, one assist), Malkin had an assist, and Letang was held without a point.

Crosby, who turned 33 years old Friday, finished his 15th NHL season. Malkin, 34, and Letang, 33, each has played 14 seasons.

“These are good players. They still have good hockey left in them,” said Rutherford, who was asked specifically about Malkin and Letang. “I always have to say that if some amazing trade comes along that makes sense for the Penguins now and in the future, you have to look at it. But I will not be actively trying to trade our core players.”

Rutherford said he’s confident in Crosby’s contributions but isn’t satisfied with those of other veterans.

“Sid’s leadership never changes,” Rutherford said. “His approach never changes. He’s the captain of our team. … I have no concerns there. I think we do need a little more out of some of the other guys. Are they in a position to still give that leadership, whether it’s leading by example on the ice or whether it’s in the room, verbally? Or do we need some of the other guys to step up and do more?

“Maybe it’s better to have those younger, more eager guys that are just so happy to be here and happy to come to the rink for practice every day. That’s part of what I’m trying to weigh now.”

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