NEW YORK — Jeff Carter appeared to miss a mission in his own area. Brian Dumoulin made the wrong call shorthanded. Tristan Jarry did not reach the third period.
Everything has already happened. All of this will probably happen again.
It all happened to the Penguins on Saturday night when their game against the New York Rangers was still up in the air, which didn’t last very long – just long enough for the familiar culprits to make more of the same mistakes they’ve been making for three years. years. month.
Final score: Rangers 6, Penguins 0, and it wasn’t that close.
“There’s nothing to learn from this,” Jason Zucker said.
Coach Mike Sullivan called the loss “humiliating”. He was also ready for a question about Carter and Dumoulin – two veterans who have become piñatas to increasingly appalled fans.
“You like to pick on certain guys and you go to them all the time,” Sullivan said. “We respectfully disagree with you in many circumstances.
“When goals are scored, we look at a lot of details about how and why. The reality is that it’s more than one person, for the most part, when the goals end up in the back of the net.
Sullivan hasn’t won 400 games and doesn’t have two Stanley Cup rings because he’s ignorant. He knows that part of a coach’s job is to protect players in adverse circumstances.
These are tough times for the Penguins.
A reasonable person might disagree with his use of Carter and Dumoulin, or his attempt to (not physically) rehabilitate Jarry during a time when the Penguins can’t afford to give points away.
But Sullivan is not going to throw his players under the bus. Which means deviation, denial and disagreement with members of the media and maybe even other people in his organization.
The thing is, what are his other options, anyway?
He didn’t build this deeply flawed list. He was given just six top-notch forwards, two reliable defenders and a goaltending tandem that a single general manager might have entrusted in the elite combined final season of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
These founding elements of the greatest era in franchise history are doing everything they can to drag a hole-riddled roster into the playoffs. Crosby, Malkin and Letang are all-time greats amid insanely good seasons in their respective 30s.
They’re not good enough – not anymore – to overcome the shortcomings of mistakes made by GM Ron Hextall after keeping the Big Three together last summer. Almost every move he made after getting Letang and then Malkin to take another below market value contract to come back blew up in his face.
Whether Hextall will have a chance to fix this mess he created is a debate that should be ongoing among Fenway Sports Group decision makers. It’s FSG’s franchise, whether they act like it or not.
The Penguins’ still somewhat new ownership group should know, however, that fans accustomed to their hockey team vying for the Cup aren’t – and surely won’t continue to – take kindly to a team so blatantly deficient, or complete failure to do better by Crosby, Malkin and Letang.
That’s what Hextall did. He dropped the three most important players in franchise history who aren’t named Mario Lemieux.
Three of Hextall’s biggest failures were once again painfully evident on Saturday night.
Carter appeared to miss a defensive mission on the Rangers’ first goal. It would be the same Carter who has provided all three goals and six points in his last 32 games. He is a minus-15 in those contests.
Sullivan probably won’t scratch Carter. I don’t know of an NHL coach who would humiliate a two-time Cup winner with 400+ goals by giving him a healthy elimination.
Either way, the perception is that Carter is humbling himself even though he’s been pushed back to the fourth line and even though he’s averaged fewer minutes over the past three games (8:28) than he does. any stretch like that during his tenure with the Penguins.
Carter, 38, has one more season remaining on a two-year deal Hextall handed to him just over a year ago. He’ll be $3.125 million against the salary cap next season, and he can’t be redeemed or traded because… who knows?
Hextall never explained why he handcuffed himself to having no handling with Carter’s contract. He let Sullivan decide what to do with Carter and then answer for it.
If Carter was the only problem for these Penguins, maybe they could overcome his decline and shortcomings.
He is not. It is far from it.
Hextall spent the last summer trying to rebuild its defense corps. He signed Jan Rutta and traded for Jeff Petry, neither of whom played Saturday night due to injuries, and who didn’t have much of an impact in their first few seasons in Pittsburgh.
Hextall tried and failed to take out Marcus Pettersson in the offseason. This failure was a blessing in disguise because Pettersson became the team’s only consistently adequate defender other than Letang. (Pettersson suffered a lower-body injury Saturday night, and Sullivan said after the game he was being evaluated by coaches.)
Hextall traded John Marino, a wage dump unless you buy Ty Smith as a future NHL star.
Few people in the NHL believe Smith is an NHL-caliber player. No one can say for sure.
Smith was unable to play regularly for the Penguins due to Hextall’s mismanagement.
Then there is Dumoulin. He is the only defender Hextall didn’t try to move last summer, even though Dumoulin’s performance in previous seasons had waned and he only had one year left on his contract.
At one point — let’s call them the glory days (2015-16 to 2017-18, when the Penguins won two titles and nine straight playoffs) — Dumoulin was a warrior and ideal complement to Letang on the best defensive pairing. Those days have passed like the wind, and Dumoulin has spent most of this season looking nothing like the invaluable piece he was on those great Penguins teams.
It is possible that Dumoulin had some commercial value last summer. At the trade deadline a few weeks ago, he had none. So Hextall didn’t even try to move it.
Instead, Hextall’s big decision was to bring in Mikael Granlund, who had so little impact that we almost forgot he’ll be counting $5 million against the cap for the next two seasons.
Let’s go back to Dumoulin who inexplicably tried to get the puck out of the defensive zone when he was shorthanded late in the first period on Saturday night. Unsurprisingly, his pass didn’t clear, Rangers kept the ball and sent another puck past Jarry.
Dumoulin should have propelled the puck onto the ice.
He should have done a lot this season. Most of the time he tried and couldn’t. This time, he didn’t even manage to correct the test part.
Then there’s Jarry, a number 1 keeper only in theory.
He was retired Saturday night for the fourth time in 11 starts. He produced an .863 save percentage and a 4.17 goals-against average in those starts.
Sometimes the numbers tell the whole story. That’s true in Jarry’s case, as he has a sub-.900 save percentage in 14 starts since suffering the first of two appearance-limiting injuries since Jan. 2.
“You’ve been asking me these questions for the past two weeks, and my answers haven’t changed — it is what it is,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to get him to rehearse, to help him get there in difficult circumstances.”
Nor was Jarry in good health to play other than Game 7 of a first-round loss to Rangers in the playoffs. He played that one on a broken foot, to his credit.
The Penguins would have won this series – or so they believe – if Jarry and/or backup Casey DeSmith had been healthy. They weren’t.
Hey, injuries are coming.
In previous playoffs, Jarry was the Penguins’ worst player in a series they should have won against the Islanders. Additionally, DeSmith was unable to play in this series due to injury.
Still, Hextall re-signed DeSmith last summer and bet on Jarry to stay healthy, despite Jarry never playing in at least 60 games or winning a playoff series.
Of course, why search the free agent market for a veteran replacement – you know, in case an injury-prone Jarry gets injured and/or doesn’t play well enough – when DeSmith returns for more time off during the months summer?
Crosby, who rarely takes days off even in the summer, said everything you’d expect of the NHL’s best captain after another heartbreaking loss Saturday night. He objected to viewing the lopsided loss “as an example of how we’ve been playing lately”.
“I think we’ve been playing some good hockey lately,” Crosby said. “Tonight was tough.”
The Penguins aren’t in very good business.
Crosby is the greatest player of his generation, so magnificent that he averaged at least one point per game in each of his 18 seasons. His longtime teammates Malkin and Letang will each join him with retired numbers in Pittsburgh, and likely in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Yes, they wanted to end their careers where those careers began. They also wanted to win.
That’s why they again – and always have – taken less money to give their GMs the opportunity to surround them with teammates good enough to try their luck at the Cup. Sometimes these GMs (Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford) would swing and miss, but at least they still had the Penguins in the hunt.
Hextall inherited a roster from Rutherford that was on its way to a top spot in 2021. The Penguins finished third last season and then lost a 3-1 lead to Rangers.
This week, the Hextall Penguins showed up in New York and were embarrassed in “the most famous arena in the world”. They have lost twice by a combined score of 10-2, and they have fallen to 15-16-5 since a 3-2 home win over Rangers on December 20.
“I think there are a lot of teams capable of winning the Stanley Cup, and we’re one of them,” Hextall said March 3.
His Penguins have since won three games, and they could be down to 13 if things continue as they have for the past three months.
(Top photo: Brad Penner/USA Today)