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Mack: Will This Year's Penguins Embrace Responsible Hockey?

Rutherford Says Playing Smarter Is Key To "Having A Parade"

Chris Mack
October 02, 2019 - 2:37 pm

Despite the big moves made by Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford this offseason, it's clear his concern in bouncing back from last spring's exit via a First Round sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders still centers around the question of how his team is going to play this season as much as who is going to play.

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For just a moment, set aside the possible effect of young, hungry additions without Stanley Cup rings such as Brandon Tanev, Alex Galchenyuk, and Dominik Kahun. 

Instead, let's focus on Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and ask the question that was asked of the GM on Tuesday afternoon on 93.7 The Fan: Can these incredibly talented individuals balance responsible hockey with the desire to show off their considerable offensive abilities?

"If we want to get back to having a parade, that's what we're going to have to do," said Rutherford.

Related: Penguins GM Jim Rutherford with Cook & Joe

"We all like that uptempo and offensive hockey, but at the same time we gave games away last year. We can play our same style, but just play a little smarter at certain times in games when we're giving opportunities away."

For his part, Malkin has been very vocal in admitting last year was less than his best and that he needs to be better this year. Rutherford's noticed that Geno is physically prepared, but the question of his appetite for playing a responsible game is still up in the air, even as the regular season approaches.

 "He came into camp in a great frame of mind," said Rutherford on Tuesday. "His conditioning was really good."

"He got off track in the one preseason game, but I don't put a lot of stock in that for a star player, (as) those are games that they really don't have a lot of interest in playing in."

It's a fair point by Rutherford, that stars don't generally show up for, let alone show out in preseason NHL games. Levels of effort from guys with locked-in roles is questionable at best in those contests.

What's not questionable is Letang's obstinacy in the face of questions about the need to change his style of play in big moments.

Remember break-up day back in April, when the defenseman clapped back at Jason Mackey's question about his overaggressive offensive style?

“Next year, I’ll try to make no mistakes at all. Maybe next year you’re going to say, ‘We have Kris in our lineup. He doesn’t do anything offensively.’ Now you’re going to rip me apart because I don’t produce anything.”

Letang continued on that spring day to defiantly defend the style that led to a Game One overtime turnover and game-winning goal for the Isles. 

“Sometimes I make mistakes. I wish I could take those back. At the end of the day, I wish I could have done something else at different times. I don’t think the answer is to change my whole game.”

Maybe Tanger should've consulted with Rutherford, who reiterated his concerns with his #1 defenseman.

"He just tries to do too much at times," he told Cook & Joe on Tuesday. "He wants to win so bad, and I think that's what happened to him in the playoffs. He just has to adjust his game at certain times, beware of when he can make risky plays and when he can't."

Following  the trade of Phil Kessel, who at times was one of the chief thorns in Head Coach Mike Sullivan's side due to less-than-inspired backchecking, it's obvious Rutherford's concerns about the 2019-20 Penguins revolve around the ability of his team to finally commit to playing conscientiously.

It starts with Malkin and Letang.