Rossi: Penguins GM Rutherford finally has found right mix

| Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, 8:33 p.m.

It's been difficult to watch Jim Rutherford's Penguins lately.

They've been moving so fast since Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin came to Uptown.

It's been tough to recognize the Penguins, too.

Bryan Rust? Conner Sheary? Tom Kuhnhackl?

Like, where did they come from?

Seriously, what's going on?

Those of us looking in from the outside had long deemed it necessary. But give Rutherford credit for finally recognizing the only way he could turn the Penguins back into something resembling a contender.

Make 'em faster.

Make 'em younger.

And find a coach who will enable 'em to start having fun playing hockey again.

This general manager has done exactly that over the past couple of months. While it's too early to tell if Rutherford has himself a Stanley Cup-caliber club, it's the right time to acknowledge the Penguins finally are a classic Jim Rutherford club.

Fast.

Skilled.

Entertaining.

That's the Penguin Way.

It also was the Hurricane Way when Rutherford ran the Carolina franchise, which is why his resistance (until recently) to remake the Penguins in the image of those 'Canes was so puzzling.

“It's easier in the second year to understand the players, their personalities and what they need around them,” Rutherford said. “But maybe it's been easier for me to understand the whole market.”

The Golden Triangle is not The Triangle. Clearly, one Cup in the Crosby/Malkin era is not enough for the good people of Pittsburgh.

So what if it took so long for Rutherford to see what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin required to get the Penguins back to where they belong?

At least he figured it out before it was too late.

Quicker wingers. To keep up on the ice.

Greener teammates. To bring life into the room.

Better defensemen. To, uh ...

OK, so the latter element remains elusive.

It is a problem that (aside from Kris Letang), the assembled defensive corps is pretty good at everything but playing defense.

But it's not like Rutherford never has made a trade. Or like the trade deadline has passed.

He shouldn't try doing too much before Feb. 29, when all deals must be consummated.

Doing nothing wouldn't be the worst thing for the man who has been making shrewd moves. However, he has said (not that GMs won't lie at this time of year) that doing nothing is possible.

In the interest of continuing to serve youth, as new coach Mike Sullivan has, Rutherford should risk going with top prospect Derrick Pouliot on the back end rather than renting a veteran.

Like those unfamiliar wingers whom fellow AHL callup Sullivan has trusted, Pouliot's game is filled with holes. His upside — as puck mover, if not a sneaky scorer — also could help fill a hole in the Penguins' playoff game.

They scraped 26 goals in six games against the Flyers in 2012. Otherwise, from 2010-15, the Penguins averaged 1.86 goals in series that served as their swan song.

Goals, man.

The Penguins have needed to score goals.

They're doing that under Sullivan.

It took him four games to snag that first win, but Sullivan is 10-3-4 since then, thanks in part to his 3-each-night offense.

Sure, Crosby, Malkin and Letang are performing at MVP levels.

They're paid like MVPs.

They'll need to produce like MVPs — all three of them — for the Penguins to win any playoff series.

But they'll also be more likely to make a mark when it counts because of the better ingredients from Papa Jim.

A cup of speed. A spoonful of youth.

These Penguins are looking good.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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