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Thoughts on Thoughts: Penguins GM Rutherford opens up, Sidney Crosby on face-offs, and more

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Media Day Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for Elliotte Friedman’s usual “31 Thoughts” post. In this week’s edition, he discussed several Penguins-centric things.

13. Another NHL coach on the Penguins: “They’re going to be fine. Believe me, no one thinks they’re on the decline.”

Does GM Jim Rutherford concur?

“Yes, of course,” he replied from Edmonton, where Pittsburgh practised before facing the Oilers. “We haven’t got to the level of our game. When you are the champion, everybody wants to beat you. There are no easy games.”

Is there anything that concerns him about what he’s seen?

“It’s too early to tell. If we were playing like this at the midway point, then I would have more concerns than I have right now. I was watching what the Cubs did (this past season). (Manager) Joe Maddon said he didn’t push…. Until the midway point he wasn’t hard on them. For us, we’ve won two of them. There’s the World Cup, it’s a lot of hockey. It’s natural for what we’ve gone through. The hunger will be there at the most important time. We’re not concerned about the President’s Trophy.”

It’s not surprising to hear a General Manager to defend his own team publicly. I certainly wouldn’t expect one to throw them under the bus, especially one who just won back-to-back Stanley Cups. With that said, I agree with what Jim Rutherford i saying here. Everyone wants to knock off the Champions and will bring their ‘A’ game when the Penguins come to town. If anything, I think that Mike Sullivan have earned the benefit of the doubt for a little bit of patience. They’ve shown for 2 years running that it ultimately isn’t how you start, but how you finish. It’s still very early and they’re not in a bad spot. Give them some time.

14. The Pittsburgh GM pointed out that all of the team’s defeats except one (last Saturday in Minnesota) were on the rear end of back-to-backs and the blowout in Winnipeg was their fourth game in sixth nights. A lot of the blame was thrown on Antti Niemi, who was waived and claimed by Florida.

“I feel bad for him,” Rutherford said. “I’m not pointing the finger. We gave up some goals that you could point at the goaltender. But the same goalie made five or six saves that should have been goals.”

Casey DeSmith initially came up from AHL Wilkes-Barre, but Tristan Jarry is now with the team and likely plays in Calgary on Thursday. They wanted him to get another weekend of AHL action before calling for him. Is he ready to be the full-time number two?

“Ability-wise, yes, but our preference was for him to have at least a half a season in Wilkes-Barre, get him even more games. We had to accelerate this.”

This thought completely ties in with my previous response. It’s early and the games that the Penguins have gotten pushed around have been in back-to-back situations. Backup goaltenders, road travel, circumstances that they haven’t faced in games that they’ve come out on the winning end in. This isn’t an excuse, as all teams need to find ways to win, but it’s an asterisk when you look at the win/loss column and some of the stats.

15. Rutherford says the Penguins need to ease the workload on Kris Letang, but full health should aid that. As for trades, “I don’t feel pressure to get anything done.”

Interesting nugget: they made two previous offers to Detroit for Riley Sheahan. This one closed because Athanasiou’s return brought cap pressure.

I can see Rutherford’s reasoning here, but only to a point. Yes, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year without Kris Letang in the lineup. But with that said, Kris Letang is Kris Letang and if he is able to play, he should be the player on the ice for the most time.

16. Finally from Rutherford: He was the only GM to vote against the two-minute penalty for an incorrect offside challenge. He supports video review, but thinks the punishment for being wrong is too harsh.

“Do we want to get it right, or not get it right? If we don’t want to get it right, we should get rid of it.”

He pointed to Chicago’s 5-2 loss to Minnesota on Oct. 12 as an example of the severity. Chris Stewart broke a 1-1 tie with 9:28 remaining. The Blackhawks challenged, failed and gave up a Jason Zucker power-play goal 1:57 later.

“If you were to look at that, those are game changers.”

What I liked about Rutherford’s comments is that he offered a solution, modelled on the game-misconduct rules. Any player who accrues three game misconducts gets a one-game suspension. After that, each additional misconduct increases the next suspension by an extra game. Rutherford suggests something similar for coaches: You get three wrong, you get a penalty. (He added the caveat that if you go, say, 10 games without a wrong one, you lose a “strike” against you.)

“I don’t like the two-minute rule. To me, [this option] provides a little more leniency. Close plays at critical times, you’re not going to ask if you’re worried about being wrong.”

I’m in agreement with both Elliotte and Jim Rutherford here. He could have easily just lambasted the new rule, but instead he presented an option of a way to tweak it without wholesale major changes. I kind of love that he was the only one to vote against it.

17. A couple of coaches were curious to see how a smart player like Sidney Crosby would adapt to the new faceoff rules. He’s at 55.5 per cent, the best number of anyone who has taken more than 250 draws. The next time you watch Pittsburgh, see how he concedes the circle. “He’s just letting them have the dot,” one said. By doing that, other players are leaning in, going off-balance — and losing.

Crosby has a great “backhand sweep” to his eight o’clock, and I also saw a few examples where he swept the puck past the opposing centre’s blade. It’s another example of how the best adapt, and a reminder of why he continues to excel.

Breaking news, folks. Sidney Crosby is still a beast and continues to find ways to better his game in lieu of rule changes and the game changing around him.