INSIDE HOCKEY » Pittsburgh Penguins Get Inside! Thu, 18 Sep 2014 19:48:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Penguins Assemble Rutherford-led GM Team; Dismiss Bylsma as Coach Sat, 07 Jun 2014 16:00:26 +0000

The Pittsburgh Penguins concluded their three-week search to replace fired general manager Ray Shero Friday, and the news that started trickling out a few hours before the official announcement caught most observers off guard.

A few names had leaked throughout the search process, which saw the Penguins start with a list of 30 candidates, speak with 22 of them, bring nine to Pittsburgh for interviews and invite four back as finalists. Most visible among them was NBC television analyst Pierre McGuire, whose candidacy – and candor in radio interviews about it – was highly polarizing to the fan base.

The name of 65-year-old Jim Rutherford, former Carolina Hurricanes GM, was never mentioned publicly, and seemed a strange choice to lead the Penguins into the next chapter of their franchise history.

But the rest of the announcement made sense of the selection, as former assistant GM Jason Botterill, 38, was promoted to Associate GM, while player development coach Bill Guerin, 43, and former Shero assistant Tom Fitzgerald, 45, were promoted to Assistant GMs. Botterill, who served as interim GM since Shero’s departure, was a candidate for the position, while Fitzgerald is also believed to have interviewed.

In promoting Botterill, a salary-cap specialist who is widely regarded as a soon-to-be NHL general manager, the Penguins likely felt he wasn’t yet ready to assume the lead role but wanted to keep him in the organization with the probability of being Rutherford’s eventual successor.

“I feel we have two or three guys here that are very close to becoming general managers,” Rutherford said. “What I will do is give them big roles and a lot to say, and a lot of input in my final decisions. But, at the same time, I know that I’m mentoring them.

“I would suppose that this term for me is probably two or three years here, and it’s going to be up to the ownership as to who replaces me. But, certainly, I will get to know these guys better and I will recommend what goes on in the future. Especially Jason. He’s been here for a long time; he’s a very bright guy. He knows the game. I know that he’s getting very close.”

Rutherford specifically defined Guerin’s role as being hands-on with the players. “It wasn’t long ago since Billy was a player; he understands what makes these players tick and he’s going to be my day-to-day guy that really communicates with [them] and is around a lot more in the room to understand if we have an issue or if everything is going fine. Because, when there’s issues, I like to get on top of it and deal directly with it myself.”

As Rutherford mentors the next Penguins GM – a role he also performed in Carolina, where former Penguin Ron Francis recently assumed GM duties – he’ll work to restructure an organization he believes is close to getting back to winning.

“Five weeks ago, I decided to step down with the Hurricanes. I did both jobs [president and GM] and it really wore on me. And, when I stepped down … [I kept] an open mind that, if somebody called me, I would consider going somewhere if I felt I had a chance to win a championship.

“I have one Stanley Cup, I have two Eastern Conference trophies, but there’s no feeling, as everyone in here knows, like winning the ultimate prize. I believe we can do it here. And my job now is to come in and change some of those things that we need to strengthen in order to get to the end.”

Several of the things Rutherford cited as needing to change echoed what Penguins fans – and, more importantly, ownership – had likely been hoping to hear from their next GM: the team needs a head coach more capable of making adjustments, the organization needs to come up to speed on analytics, and the team would benefit from more vocal leadership.

Head coaching change

Upon his hiring, Rutherford immediately dismissed Dan Bylsma of his head coaching duties, in what seemed like a formality since Shero’s firing three weeks ago. Bylsma’s assistants – Jacques Martin, Todd Reirden, Tony Granato and goalie coach Mike Bales – were not dismissed but have been given permission to pursue other opportunities.

“I took the information from the people that were here; I didn’t have several meetings with Dan to get to know him and evaluate him or take his side of the story,” Rutherford said. “We agreed that making a change was the right thing to do.

“I have a short list of coaches in mind. The coach is going to have to adjust to the style of players we have because, with the talent level of the Penguins, the Penguins can play however we want – but, with the teams we have to compete with, we are going to have to make the proper adjustments during the game, the regular season or a playoff series.

“Obviously the Penguins can score, and score in bunches. But, looking at the Penguins – obviously from a distance, because that’s where I was – I don’t think they can make the proper adjustments against certain teams, and that will be a key factor in what I will be looking for in a head coach. And then the chemistry is going to be important. If the head coach is a certain way, we may need an X and O’s guy as a head coach and a motivator as an assistant coach, or vice versa. But we have to get a good mix of guys.”


Rutherford said he would be adding a specialized analytics position to the organization within the next few weeks.

“I don’t think we’re up to speed here, and this is something I’ve gotten used to over the last few years. The analytics are very interesting if you do it properly. It’s not like baseball, [which] is an individual sport and you can either hit the ball or you can’t, or you can pitch the ball a certain way or you can’t. Hockey is a team sport. When you’re using those analytics, there are things that analytics are going to point out to you that your hockey people don’t see.

“So I take those points, whether it’s good or bad with a player, and then I go back and start questioning the hockey people – are we not seeing this? The analytics aren’t always right, and we’re not always right. It’s a great sounding board, really. Being a guy that’s been around as long as I have, some people are probably surprised that I use analytics. But I’ve used them for a few years now, and I can tell you that it really makes a difference.”

Grit and character

Asked specifically about the mandate from owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to improve the Penguins’ grit and character, Rutherford said his outsider’s perspective was that the team could use more vocal leadership – something he could consider addressing via trades or the upcoming free agency period, which he cautioned “may not be as exciting” this year as the Penguins are up against the salary cap, “but we’re still going to look to see if there’s ways to make some changes on the team.”

“I see the top-six guys as very talented players but, from a character point of view or leadership point of view … looking at it from the outside, I suspect we have good character in that room, but it’s quiet. It’s a quiet approach where you don’t have one or two guys that can stand up in the room and say, you know, this is what’s really going on. From a character point of view, I don’t think there’s an issue but, to have somebody or a couple of guys that are a little more vocal, I suspect that’s probably needed.”

Before free agency, however, Rutherford will turn his attention to preparing for the NHL Entry Draft, set for three weeks from his hire date, and hiring a head coach. Later Friday, in an interview with local radio station 93.7 The Fan, he said he plans to begin interviewing coaching candidates Monday, June 16, due to travel and GM meetings over the coming week.

]]> 0
Photo Gallery: Ice Caps @ Penguins (5/31/14) Mon, 02 Jun 2014 16:58:18 +0000

Eastern Conference Finals Game #5 was held in Wilkes-Barre, PA on Saturday 05/31/14 between the St. John’s Ice Caps and WBS Penguins.  At the 19:44 mark of the 3rd period, WBS Penguins Zach Sill scored the winning to defeat the Ice Caps by a score of 4-2. The Ice Caps lead the series 3 to 5 games.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were WBS Spencer Machacek, #2 WBS Chuck Kobasew, and #1 WBS Zach Sill.  Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

]]> 0
Photo Gallery: Ice Caps @ Penguins (05/29/14) Fri, 30 May 2014 16:59:08 +0000

  Game #4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between St. John’s Ice Caps and the WBS Penguins was held in Wilkes Barre, PA on 5/29/14.  At the 9:19 mark of the 3rd period STJ Josh Lunden scored the winning goal defeating WBS by a score of 2-1. The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 STJ Michael Hutchinson, #2 WBS Peter Mannino, and #1 STJ Josh Lunden. Photos were taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

]]> 0
Photo Gallery: AHL Bruins @ Penguins (5/19/14) Tue, 20 May 2014 12:02:13 +0000

  Eastern Conference Semi-Final Game #6 in Wilkes-Barre, PA, Providence Bruins Alexander Khokhlachev had 2 goals and 1 assist to give the Bruins a 4 to 1 win over the WBS Penguins. Series is now going into Game #7 which will be in Providence.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 WBS Conor Sheary, #2 PRO Niklas Svedberg, #1 PRO Alexander Khokhlachev. Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

]]> 0
Photo Gallery: AHL Penguins @ Bruins (5/17/14) Mon, 19 May 2014 20:04:05 +0000

AHL Calder Cup Semifinals Game 5: Providence Bruins vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center

]]> 0
Photo Gallery: WBS Penguins @ Providence Bruins 05/17/14 Mon, 19 May 2014 01:23:04 +0000

  In Providence, Rhode Island during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between Providence Bruins and WBS Penguins.  In the 3rd period the Penguins Anton Zlobin scored the winning goal at the 14:20 mark giving the Penguins a 3-2 win.  Penguins lead the series 3 games to 2 games.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 PRO Tyler Randell, #2 WBS Anton Zlobin, #1 WBS Peter Mannino.  Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

]]> 0
Penguins Come Up Short as Rangers Cap Historic Comeback Wed, 14 May 2014 05:03:37 +0000

Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers accomplished something unprecedented in the 88-year history of their Original Six franchise, coming back all the way from a 1-3 series deficit to win in Game 7.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, did something that’s become all too familiar since their 2009 Stanley Cup championship, bowing out of the postseason for the fifth consecutive year to a lower-seeded team.

After getting off to slow starts and failing to eliminate the Rangers in Game 5 at home or Game 6 on the road, the Penguins came to play Tuesday. But, by taking the series to a one-game, winner-take-all Game 7, they put themselves in a situation where a bad bounce could end their season – or where a future Hall of Fame goaltender could do his best impersonation of a brick wall.

Henrik Lundqvist, to the surprise of absolutely no one, did just that.

The Rangers netminder was 4-0 in his last four Game 7 appearances, with an 0.75 goals-against average. Tuesday, he became the first goalie in NHL history to win five consecutive Game 7’s, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced in New York’s 2-1 win.

Over the Rangers’ remarkable three-game comeback, Lundqvist faced 105 shots and stopped 102 of them.

“I knew we probably weren’t going to score three or four in the third period but, certainly, one goal is not out of the realm,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We threw a lot of rubber at him; we tried it the right way. We had guys diving and putting their faces into the crease, trying to will it into the net. It wouldn’t go. He was good. These tight playoff games, it comes down to those types of things – one little play, one little inch, one save.”

“It’s just disappointing,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “Tonight was one of our better games; we worked hard and generated some good chances but, unfortunately, didn’t find a way to win. Ultimately, the [last] two we lost hurt us a lot. We put ourselves in this position.”

As a team, New York also did an impressive job of collapsing around Lundqvist, keeping Pittsburgh mostly to the perimeter and limiting quality chances.

“They protected the net,” Crosby said. “They boxed out well in front, had guys sit back a lot, really protected their blue line and forced us to dump it. But, even with that, it’s the playoffs. You’ve got to find ways to generate.”

Rangers forward Brian Boyle got the first goal of the game past Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury just 5:25 in, continuing the trend of the team that scored first winning all seven contests. Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen – the team’s leading goal-scorer in the postseason – got his seventh early in the second to tie it. But, ironically, it was New York’s power play, which tied an NHL record earlier in the series by going 0-for-36, where Brad Richards cashed in a few minutes later with the eventual game-winner.

To a man, the Penguins pointed to Game 5 as the point where they started to lose their grip on the series.

“Certainly a disappointing effort on our end,” Niskanen said. “If you’re not going to win that game – it’s an opportunity to win and close out the series when you have all the momentum but, if you’re not, you’d better put a dent in their team at least. Make a statement with how you play, tire them out, do something. Game 5 was a really big missed opportunity, and then momentum starts to turn.”

“When you go up 3-1, [then] they played their best game in Game 5 … right here in our building,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “Not being able to come up with the knockout punch there, you look at that as probably the biggest turning point in the series. You go back [to New York] for Game 6, they’re at home and win again to move the series on.”

Not even Crosby, a proven big-game player on some of hockey’s biggest stages, could come through in Game 7, ending a frustrating postseason in which he had nine points but only one goal through 13 games and frequently looked to be off his game, despite insisting that he was not battling an injury.

“Obviously, I would have liked to score more and contribute more, but it wasn’t a lack of effort or competing or anything like that,” Crosby said. “I’d love to tear it up every series but it’s not always the case. It doesn’t make it any easier, I’ll tell you that. It’s tough losing as it is but, when you’re not able to contribute as much as you’d like, it’s even tougher.”

After five consecutive seasons of underachieving expectations, the Penguins organization has big questions to answer this offseason – including whether Bylsma and his staff, general manager Ray Shero, and the players on the roster are the right men for their jobs.

“Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and we haven’t done that in five seasons,” Bylsma said. “Twenty minutes post battling for a Game 7 right to the bitter end, I haven’t contemplated the price it’s going to be or [thought about] anything toward the future yet.”

“You work all year to put yourself in a home-ice advantage to win a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we didn’t score at big moments in big games,” said forward James Neal, who managed only four points (2G, 2A) in 13 playoff games. “It falls on us. We just didn’t get it done; that’s the bottom line.”

]]> 0
Rangers Force Game Seven Tue, 13 May 2014 20:49:58 +0000

This is the story every sports writer loves to write: a story about the human side of the game that bonds an entire team and forces them to want to win. It’s the stuff that turns a sports movie into a tearfest. At least, for the Rangers this is perhaps the beginning of their story.

Last Thursday, New York Rangers’ Martin St. Louis unexpectedly lost his mother. His family decided that he should go on to play in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night because it was what his mother would have wanted him to do. The Rangers pulled together in what could have been their elimination game, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-1.

This win was for Marty.

St. Louis has been with the Rangers for only a couple of months now, but his personal loss was what brought this team together. The loss of a mother affects every single individual in that locker room.  Why?  Because they are human beings.  What if they were in his shoes? For those who have lost their mothers, they understood the emotional pain and grief of the loss. For those who have not suffered this kind of loss, they can only imagine and sympathize with the pain.

As the Rangers returned to New York to play Game 6 on Mother’s Day the fans rallied to let St. Louis know that they were beside him. They chanted “Mar-Ty” so loud it shook the roof of Madison Square Garden.

There was no goal celebrated louder on Sunday than the first goal of the night. At 3:34, St. Louis lit up New York with the first goal of the game. The impact this goal would have on Marty’s first Mother’s Day without his mother was the most important goal of the game. It was what brought the team to life.

After St. Louis scored this goal, he didn’t look up to his family sitting in the stands.

“I didn’t look up,” St. Louis said. “I’m trying to focus on the game. I looked up to them after the game. They deserve a lot of credit for where I’ve been, where I’ve gone today. I couldn’t be happier for them to be here on a special day.”

“I think the boys were happy for me, no doubt,” he said of the team when he scored his goal. “We just kept going through the first period. We were playing with a lot of emotion. Things were going good. We knew they were going to get their push. I thought we did pretty well. Obviously, we got a big third goal there in the second.”

“I think we played a great game,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “We set the tone right away. Marty scored that goal…it was such a beautiful moment. I got really emotional to watch that. To see him and what he’s been through, I think the entire team was feeding from that moment…and the entire building. It was such a great energy in here.

“I’ve got no idea what he’s gone through these last few days,” Marc Staal said of St. Louis. “But I’m assuming that felt great for him and his family, his mom. [It was] absolutely a huge boost for the bench. It was a great start to the game.”

A few minutes after St. Louis’ goal, Carl Hagelin backhanded the puck in for the Rangers second goal at 6:25. The Penguins got a lucky break at 16:56 when Brandon Sutter’s shot was blocked by Lundqvist. The puck then bounced off of Rangers’ defenseman Kevin Klein and into the net, giving Pittsburgh their lone goal of the game.

In the second period, Derick Brassard gave the Rangers their third goal of the game at 15:30, tallying his fourth goal in the post-season.

“It’s up to us to give [the fans] something to be happy about and we did right away,” Lundqvist said. “We played a really strong game. At critical moments, we made some great plays. It’s a fun, exciting feeling. Obviously, when you play at home, you must win. As a team, we go out and play that well together, it’s a great feeling.”

Although this game was a promising game for the Rangers, edging them further along in their comeback from a 3-1 series, it also produced a lot of nastiness coming from the side of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lundqvist was fined $5,000 for squirting Sidney Crosby with his water bottle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

What you see in the video above is Sidney Crosby with his hockey stick between the legs of Rangers Dominic Moore followed by a spear into the crotch. During the altercation between both teams, Crosby goes down and then Lundqvist skates by squirting him with his water bottle. That move cost Lundqvist $5,000.

What did Crosby get? Two minutes in the penalty box for cross-checking.

But that’s not all Crosby did. He came up behind Rangers Dan Girardi with a slew foot. He wasn’t called for “tripping” there.

This is not the first time Crosby has speared an opponent in the groin. It is not the first time he was caught with an apparent slew foot move. The reason why he keeps on doing it is because he gets away with it. When the opposing team tries to go after him, the referees protect him. When the league should stop these dirty plays from reoccurring, they go silent…which means it is perfectly acceptable to spear a player in the groin, and slew foot a member of the opposing team…just so long as your name is Sidney Crosby.

Yet, Lundqvist tries to get retribution for his teammate and is fined $5,000 for getting Crosby a little wet. While Crosby, who attempted to hurt and injure another player by going for a low-ball move (no pun intended), gets away scot-free.

There are more and more incidents like this happening across the league. If this is acceptable hockey, parents need to avert their children’s eyes.

As for the Game 6 victory, St. Louis decided to award the Broadway Hat to the team for their outstanding effort.

Click here to view the embedded video.

“I think as a team, the last couple of games, we’ve come together here and realized what we need to do to have success against this team. They’re so skilled that if you give them something, then they’re going to try and take it. You just have to respect that. At the same time, we have to believe in what we’re doing. The last two games, I think our mindset has been really good.”

Game 7 is on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

]]> 0
Inspired Rangers Push Penguins to the Brink Mon, 12 May 2014 04:43:13 +0000

In 16 opportunities in the history of the franchise, the New York Rangers have never come back to win a playoff series in which they trailed 1-3. Tuesday in Pittsburgh, they’ll get the chance to do just that.

The Rangers, who appeared to have nothing left in the tank after their third consecutive loss in Game 4, rallied to tie the series Sunday, beating the Penguins 3-1. They’ve rallied around teammate Marty St. Louis, who played Game 5 a day after the unexpected passing of his mother and Game 6 on Mother’s Day. They’ve rallied around each other.

“I think, as a team, we’ve come together and realized what we need to do to have success against this team,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “They’re so skilled that, if you give them something, they’re going to try to take it. You just have to respect that. At the same time, you have to believe in what you’re doing. The last two games, our mindset has been really good.”

Suddenly, all the pressure in the series has shifted to the Penguins – who, for the second consecutive game, came out looking like they weren’t prepared to play. By 6:25 in, New York had jumped out to a 2-0 lead, with St. Louis opening the scoring just 3:34 in and Carl Hagelin putting in a backhander less than three minutes later that Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury probably should have stopped.

But this wasn’t about Fleury, who stood nearly as tall for his club as Lundqvist did for his the rest of the way. It was about the Penguins putting themselves in a tough position from the start.

“It’s pretty clear; we’ve got to show up and, the last two games, our starts have hurt us,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, himself a significant topic of conversation with nine points but only one goal in 12 playoff games, one shot in Game 6, and a downturn in his overall play that’s hard to explain if, as he and the team maintain, he is not injured.

“We talked about it, we knew it was something we had to improve and we didn’t. And we paid the price for it.”

By the end of the first period, Pittsburgh had gotten on the board with a fluky goal credited to Brandon Sutter and was edging New York in shots, 15-14, after being dominated, 11-2, in the early going. But Lundqvist was nearly perfect – stopping 36 of the 37 shots he faced on the night. And, with an insurance goal from Derick Brassard in the waning minutes of the second period, the Rangers had all they would need to send the series back to CONSOL Energy Center for a winner-take-all Game 7.

“I think, once we got down, you really saw how hard we can push,” said Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We were really trying to be aggressive, just pressure them all over the ice. We got zone time and some chances because of it, a couple power plays because of it.”

The power play couldn’t cash in, however, going 0-for-4 on the night. The Penguins are just 1-for-19 in the series with the man-advantage.

“The first [power play] tonight, we did some really good things,” Niskanen said. “We had a lot of movement, kept a couple pucks alive, had some shots, recovered them. When you have [Chris Kunitz] standing in front like that, you have the chance at a couple rebounds. We were doing the right things. The next couple, we didn’t enter the zone quite as clean; they started pressuring a little bit more.

“Bottom line is, it comes down to results.”

Much as it had earlier in the series, before the Rangers ended an 0-for-36 stretch without a power-play goal, the Penguins’ penalty kill provided more momentum than the power play. They held the Rangers 0-for-6 with the man-advantage and generated scoring chances of their own, including shorthanded breakaways by Marcel Goc and Brian Gibbons.

“The penalty killers did a great job – two shorthanded breakaways and a couple other rushes that didn’t amount to anything, but they were pushing that way,” Niskanen said. “That gave us momentum and could’ve really swung the game if we buried one of those. Lundqvist had a couple nice saves to keep the score what it was.”

Now, after squandering two opportunities to eliminate the Rangers, the Penguins will face elimination right along with them.

“Nothing matters but the next game,” Crosby said. “We can’t change it; we’re in the situation that we’re in and we’ve got to be at our best when it means the most. It’s pretty clear and simple when there’s a Game 7; you’ve got to be at your best to give yourself a chance.”

“Right now, we need everything from everybody,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “We go up 3-1 and now they’ve answered back and we need everyone’s best for Game 7. We haven’t been there at all times in the last few games. We have to be there now, and Sid’s going to be leading the way.”

]]> 0
Photo Gallery: AHL Bruins @ Penguins (5/10/14) Sun, 11 May 2014 15:53:48 +0000

  Game #2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals took place in Wilkes-Barre, PA on 05/10/14 between the Providence Bruins and the WBS Penguins.  The Penguins Anton Zlorin scored two goals and an assist to help his team beat the Bruins 6-1.  The Series is now tied at one game apiece. The “3 Stars of the Game”  #3 WBS Simon Despres, #2 WBS Tom Kostopoulas, #1 WBS Anton Zlorin.  Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

]]> 0