The expectations for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season were enormous following the offseason acquisition of sniper Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He joined an impressive core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and Olli Maatta.
Through 32 games, the Penguins haven’t lived up to the hype, stumbling their way to a 15-14-3 record, putting them second last in the Metropolitan division. For a team loaded with talent, the club has posted some paltry numbers with a 49.2 score-adjusted corsi, a -11 goal differential, and just 71 goals, the third-fewest in the NHL. Pittsburgh tried to remedy what was thought to be a system problem, by firing head coach Mike Johnston and replacing him with Mike Sullivan, but the change hasn’t sparked the club as they’ve lost five straight games (four in a row under Sullivan) while scoring just six goals in the process.
General manager Jim Rutherford told Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he’s sick of how his team has played.
“Am I disappointed? Yes. Makes me sick, actually,” he said. “More sick than I’ve ever been in my career when I’ve managed a team. I feel for the fans. I feel for everybody.”
Rutherford’s all-or-nothing approach has yielded mix results. Acquiring Kessel was a great move despite the cost of defenseman Scott Harrington and Kasperi Kapanen. However, giving up defenseman Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy last year was a head scratcher. The Penguins defense has been a gong show, and Rutherford tried to fix the problem trading for Trevor Daley this week, but he’s grossly mismanaged depth.
When trying to project the 2015-16 Penguins and their chances, I severely underestimated how bad this defense was going to be.
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) December 17, 2015
Rutherford told the Tribune-Review that the Penguins have to take things one game at a time, saying they’re still very much in contention.
It looks like we’re never going to win a game again and we’re buried. We’re not. Somehow we have to figure out how to get a point here, a point there, until we get everybody back. We’re very much still in everything. The bottom line is you gotta make the playoffs to win a Cup, and this team can do it. This is a team that won nine out of 10 at one point this year.
Pittsburgh has too much talent to be this bad. But with Crosby struggling, Fleury sidelined, and the defense still not being good enough, the playoffs aren’t a sure thing. Rutherford has a lot of work to do if he wants to bring another Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.