PITTSBURGH — There was plenty of emotion and disappointment as the Pittsburgh Penguins cleaned out their lockers at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Thursday afternoon.
Perhaps the most visibly frustrated was general manager Jim Rutherford, who cited chemistry, or lack thereof, as the main culprit for being swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We were a team,” Rutherford said of the teams that won Stanley Cups in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
“We were a very tight-knit team, and I didn’t see that this year, almost from day one. I didn’t see a point where our guys came together as a team, and I wonder if it’s because there’s too many guys content with where they’re at in their careers after winning a couple of Stanley Cups. Is that a signal where some of that has to be changed where you’ve got that eagerness again?"
Accountability appears to be a problem, and when looking back at what ultimately doomed the Penguins, one of the biggest issues was carelessness with the puck. The Penguins had 74 giveaways in the four-game sweep. Kris Letang was among the main culprits.
“Sometimes I make mistakes. I wish I could take those back,” Letang said. “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. I’m not going to change the type of game I play over three plays.”
Rutherford said he saw this on more than a handful of plays. He considered the mentality to win playoff hockey to be lacking.
“There’s a bunch of things that were different between the Islanders and the Penguins and the reason that Islanders won four straight. They played the right way and they were eager to win. They were determined, and the Penguins weren’t.”
Can the Penguins still win another Stanley Cup with the core group they currently have on the roster?
“I don’t think as is," Rutherford said. “But the window is still open.”
After letting the emotion of the defeat settle, Rutherford said he will consult with ownership and the coaching staff before making moves to improve the team for next season.
“Some big decisions will have to be made,” Rutherford said. “Obviously, there will be changes in our team.”
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