Tim Benz: Penguins better heed Jim Rutherford’s wake-up call | TribLIVE.com
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Penguins better heed Jim Rutherford’s wake-up call

Tim Benz
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The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby walks out for the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers during the Stadium Series game Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

In a best-case scenario, the Penguins will make a nice playoff run with newly acquired Erik Gudbranson and Chris Wideman in the press box as scratches.

They aren’t all that good. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford gave away two players who aren’t all that good to get them: Tanner Pearson and Jean-Sebastien Dea.

The two new guys are on board to stop the bleeding during this patch of injuries to defensemen. They are here to provide insurance after that.

What Jim Rutherford said about these players he picked up at the trade deadline on Monday afternoon wasn’t important.

What was important is how Rutherford decided to characterize his team’s playoff chances.

He’s “nervous” about those chances.

I’m right there with him.

“We’re good enough to get in,” Rutherford said. “We’re good enough to take a run.

“I feel comfortable with this team. But I say that at this time being a little bit nervous as to whether we’re going to get in. It’s going to be a battle until the end.”

Yeah. Couldn’t have summed it up better myself.

Seems obvious. I’ve felt the same way for months. But those sentiments have more gravitas when the guy in charge of the roster says so out loud.

The Penguins have Conn Smythe winners, all-stars and Stanley Cup rings aplenty in this locker room. Should the club get into the playoffs, who is to say they can’t do damage?

They own the Blue Jackets in the postseason. They can beat the Islanders. Sure, the Capitals eliminated them last year. But maybe that was a fluke.

Then again, they could finish ninth or 10th in the conference and be golfing by Easter.

“We’ve played well, but there are some inconsistencies in our play,” Rutherford said.

Ya think? This team has been so up-and-down, Kennywood is going to name its next roller coaster “The Penguin.”

“We have to have everything going that makes you a good team,” Rutherford said. “Our goaltending has to be consistent and strong. We have to get healthy on defense, and, hopefully, we can do that by this weekend. Our forwards have to do what they’re capable of doing.”

Easier said than done.

Rutherford is right, though. If all that wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for Penguins’ fans, how about this quote from the GM when I asked if he came close to trading his first-round draft choice?

“This is a year that we’re on the bubble to get (into the playoffs),” Rutherford said. “I did not want to risk that, but also, it’s a very good draft. It was important this year to keep that pick.”

• It’s Rutherford admitting that a roster with a core remaining from teams that have won two of the last three Stanley Cups is now “on the bubble.”

• It’s Rutherford prioritizing a future pick over the prospect of helping a roster now. That’s something he rarely does.

• It’s Rutherford hedging that his team might be in the lottery with a top-half-of-the-draft selection.

That’s pretty drab, considering Rutherford is usually an optimistic, go-at-all-costs kind of GM.

The next nine games largely will dictate the fate of the Penguins season. Eight of those contests are against teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Three of them are against Columbus, Tuesday night’s opponent. The Blue Jackets are a franchise with 73 points, one better than the Penguins. They are currently entrenched in the third spot in the Metro, good for the last automatic playoff-qualifying position.

Other games in that run feature duels against the Canadiens, Capitals, Bruins and two against the Sabres.

They all rank between third and 10th in the conference.

The Penguins occupy the ninth slot in the East right now, one spot out of the postseason. It’s the latest in a season that a Sidney Crosby-led team has been out of the playoff picture since 2009.

“You’re in desperation mode,” Crosby said . “I think we’ve been in there prior to us being at this point with 20 games left. You just have to make sure you have a playoff mentality. We’ve understood that for a little while now. We have to fight hard to get points and earn our way in there.”

The captain seems aware of the circumstances. The general manager seems aware of the circumstances. Maybe after reading these quotes, the fans and media will be aware of the circumstances.

Pittsburgh hockey fans should hope the rest of the Penguins locker room is as well.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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