Penguins notebook: Players say GM Jim Rutherford's message received
LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday afternoon, Jim Rutherford said it's time for the Penguins to start making significant improvements or he will consider making significant changes to the roster.
If the general manager's intention was to get the attention of his players, he succeeded.
Players in the locker room after morning skate Thursday said the GM's sentiments served as a wake-up call.
“When a GM is speaking up and things aren't going well, it's a little eye-opening,” winger Ryan Reaves said. “It's hockey, but hockey is a business. If you're not doing well and it continues for too long, obviously there's going to be changes and there's going to be some kind of shake-up.
“I think a lot of times that wakes the boys up and they start getting going. You never want to be in that uncertain kind of realm where you don't know if you're in the lineup, out of the lineup, you're going to be here tomorrow, going to be here in a week.”
Coming into Thursday night's matchup with the Golden Knights, the Penguins had lost three of their previous four games. At 16-13-3, they were on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“As players, most of the time you know how you're playing, but sometimes it's good to get a kick in the butt to get going,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “That's the business we're in. Everyone's different. Some guys need it. Some guys don't.
“But obviously, we're in a tough spot right now. Gotta make sure we're winning games.”
With Matt Murray making his return from a lower-body injury and 22-year-old Tristan Jarry playing well in his absence, coach Mike Sullivan has some options when it comes to dividing playing time between his goaltenders going forward.
In theory, the Penguins might be able to avoid further injury to Murray by playing him less, but Sullivan said he doesn't think that's the case.
He said the Penguins carefully examine injuries and categorize them as avoidable or unavoidable.
Murray's injuries fall into the latter category.
“He hasn't played a whole lot,” Sullivan said. “I don't know that workload is suggesting that he's worn out or he's getting injured because of that. I don't think his workload has been excessive to this point. We've tried to manage it as best we can in the last couple of seasons and certainly this season, as well. It's not an indication, I think, of Matt being worn down.”
Sullivan said Jarry's recent stint as starter — he went 4-2 with a .920 save percentage while Murray was out — gives the coach more confidence to write the rookie's name on the lineup card on a given night.
“We know he's a capable NHL goaltender,” Sullivan said. “We felt that way when we brought him up anyway. We felt like he was a guy that was ready for this challenge.”
Ice is nice
Intuitively, it might seem like an ice rink in the middle of the desert might not have the highest quality playing surface in the league. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, however, gets the Hagelin seal of approval.
He said climate can have an adverse effect on ice quality, but not in this case.
“Sometimes it does, like in the playoffs, when it gets hotter outside,” Hagelin said. “But it's good here.”
The NHL is unveiling a documentary about the 2008 outdoor game between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres with a screening at 7 p.m. Saturday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. The documentary, narrated by Michael Keaton, is called “The First NHL Winter Classic, Hockey Goes Outside.” Sidney Crosby, Colby Armstrong, Tyler Kennedy and Michel Therrien were among the participants interviewed for the film.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.