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Penguins

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford seeing faint signs of improvement

Jonathan Bombulie
| Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, 7:27 p.m.
General manager Jim Rutherford has loaded up on centers this offseason.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
General manager Jim Rutherford has loaded up on centers this offseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford is cautiously optimistic about the way his team is trending.

The caution is intense. The optimism is mild. But it probably ticks off enough boxes to be considered cautiously optimistic all the same.

“There are the signs that this team is starting to get to where we all feel it should be and is capable of being,” Rutherford said. “Now we have to get some breaks, we have to get some consistency in the team, and the key to that is we have to get some consistent goaltending, which is the key to all teams, not just the Penguins.

“Once that happens, then this team will get to the level where it should be.”

When Rutherford made his first trade of the season, sending Carl Hagelin to Los Angeles for Tanner Pearson last month, his team had lost six of its last seven games. Optimism was at an all-time low.

The improvement since then has been painstakingly slow and has come in fits and starts. There was a five-game points streak followed by deflating losses to Colorado and Philadelphia. Add it all up, and they’re 10-10-5.

“When you’re fighting for your confidence and you’re fighting for wins, it seems like once a week, there’s one or two players in a game that end up having off nights and it ends up costing us the game,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford is confident his goalies – Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry for now, Matt Murray once he returns from his lower-body injury – will be able to eliminate their off nights.

“Certainly, the goalies we have all have the ability,” Rutherford said.

When it comes to another potential trouble spot on the roster – production from the third line, especially its center, Derick Brassard – Rutherford went heavier on the caution and lighter on the optimism.

Brassard has one goal and no assists in eight games since returning from a lower-body injury last month.

“He had a good camp. He played pretty well up until he got hurt,” Rutherford said. “Since he’s come off the injury, whether he’s being cautious with the injury or whatever it is, he hasn’t had that same drive to be the guy we need him to be. So, yes, he can be (the answer at third-line center), but he needs to be better than he has been since he’s come off his injury.”

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Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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