Ron Hextall doesn’t tend to talk too often to the media, but when he does it’s often candid and carries some weight. Hextall gave some of his thoughts about the Penguins’ seven game losing streak to Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic:
The veteran Penguins, Blues and Capitals have done a lot of winning for a long time. They don’t look like winners right now. Can they pull out of it? Ron Hextall still believes in his Penguins. My latest:— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) November 7, 2022
via @TheAthletic https://t.co/6epSsN0DcP
While he had additional comments, the most important part boiled down to this:
“Our special teams haven’t helped us,” Hextall said. “Our penalty kill has been really poor. I think there’s some personnel things — obviously, we’ve got some new guys, and we’ve had Teddy (Blueger) out and Jeff Carter out, those are two of our faceoff guys. But no excuses. Because we have to be better. The PK was really good [Saturday] night, so hopefully that’s a step in the right direction. And yeah, getting something out of your power play. It’s one thing to get a goal, but I think the momentum and the feeling that your team gets off of that is hard to quantify, but it’s real.
“Special teams certainly is an area that we need to be better at. But I think it’s probably a little bit of a microcosm of our game the last seven games.”
There was a calmness in Hextall’s voice. These aren’t words just for public consumption. I get the sense from his measured tone that he truly believes this is a bump in the road.
“The good news and the bad news is that we’re beating ourselves,” he said. “It’s been a bit of a collective team effort, to be honest. You look at our PK, our PP, turnovers at inopportune times, poor decisions, defensive play — there’s a lot of things. We sit here and go, ‘We’re making egregious mistakes that this group doesn’t typically make.’
“Again, the good news and the bad news: We’re beating ourselves. But we still believe we’re a very capable team.”
As typical from Hextall, there won’t be an over-reaction for a bad stretch. He isn’t going to trade a player just to trade a player and shake things up (hello, Jim Rutherford trading Carl Hagelin).
Overall, Hextall looks right in a balanced assessment. A team that should have Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger as their bottom line centers have had to cobble together Ryan Poehling, Drew O’Connor and Sam Poulin instead. That comes with a cost.
That cost is being paid on special teams like the PK, and in the faceoff circle in general, leading to unfortunate mistakes at the wrong times.
It’s interesting and probably true that Hextall’s feeling is the team is finding ways to beat themselves in the past two weeks. Sometimes it’s the PK, often times as of late it’s been the power play as well. Or it has been defensive mistakes. Maybe sometimes it’s been hoping for that one extra save from a goalie. But it’s always been something.
LeBrun’s article also made mention of early season struggles and frustrations that the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals are having too. The Pens and Caps play on Wednesday night for the first time this season. This quote from Washington coach Peter Laviolette after the Caps blew a 2-0 third period lead to Arizona could just as easily be something that Mike Sullivan has said or thought in recent days:
Laviolette: “Breakdowns from a defensive standpoint (in the 3rd period). All the goals are things that we have to do better. And so, we could attack more, first of all. And secondly, when it does come to playing defense, it has to be the priority.” #Caps— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) November 6, 2022
Hextall said, that, “I do believe we’ll pull out of this,” which is a good reason why to think that he will stay the course a little longer and see what this team can do to get themselves back on track.
It’s been a tough last two weeks in Pittsburgh, but it’s also still a long season. In a few days we’ll get to see which of the old rivals between the Pens and Caps can give themselves a big boost of confidence by getting a win against the other. At this rate, both veteran teams will be very desperate to try and get their games in order before it suddenly becomes too late to do so.