NEW YORK – Jeff Carter seemed to miss a job in his own area. Brian Dumoulin made the wrong decision on the penalty kick. Tristan Jarry didn’t make it to the third set.
It’s all happened before. Everything will probably happen again.
It all happened for the Penguins on Saturday night, with their game against the New York Rangers still in limbo, which didn’t last very long — just long enough for the familiar culprits to make more of the same mistakes they’ve made three times. months.
Final score: Rangers 6, Penguins 0, and it wasn’t that close.
“There’s nothing to learn from that,” Jason Zucker said.
Coach Mike Sullivan called the loss humiliating. He was also prepared for a question about Carter and Dumoulin — two veterans who have become piñatas for increasingly distraught fans.
“You like to pick certain guys, and you go to them all the time,” Sullivan said. “We respectfully disagree with you on many occasions.
“When goals are scored, we look at a lot of details about how and why. The reality is that when goals end up in the back of the net, there is usually more than one person in it.
Sullivan hasn’t won 400 games and doesn’t have two Stanley Cup rings because he’s clueless. He knows that part of the coach’s job is to protect the players in unfavorable conditions.
These are tough times for penguins.
A reasonable person might disagree with his use of Carter and Dumoulin, or his attempt to rehabilitate (not physically) Jarry during the stretch when the Penguins can’t afford to share points.
But Sullivan isn’t about to throw his players under the bus. Which means disavowal, denial and disagreement with the media and maybe even other people in his organization.
The point is though, what other options does he have?
He did not make this deeply flawed list. He was given just six top-tier forwards, two reliable defensemen and a goaltending tandem that only a general manager would have trusted with a final elite combination season of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
Those staples of the greatest era in franchise history will do whatever it takes to drag a roster full of holes into the playoffs. Crosby, Malkin and Letang are all-time greats having incredibly good seasons in their mid-30s.
They’re not great enough — not anymore — to overcome the mistakes GM Ron Hextall made while keeping The Big Three together last summer. Almost every move he made after getting Letang and then Malkin to take back another below-market value contract has blown up in his face.
There should be a debate among the decision makers at Fenway Sports Group about whether Hextall gets a chance to fix this mess. It’s FSG’s franchise whether they act like it or not.
However, the Penguins’ still somewhat new ownership group should know that fans accustomed to their hockey team contending for the Cup have not – and certainly will not – take kindly to such an obviously flawed team or complete failure. do better Crosby, Malkin and Letang.
This is what Hextall has done. He has failed three of the most important players in franchise history not named Mario Lemieux.
Three of Hextall’s biggest failings were painfully evident again on Saturday night.
Carter appeared to lose a defensive assignment on the Rangers’ first goal. That would be the same Carter who has all three goals and six points in his last 32 games. He is minus-15 in those contests.
Sullivan probably isn’t going to scratch Carter. I don’t know of an NHL coach who would humiliate a two-time Cup winner with over 400 goals by making him a healthy scratch.
Either way, the perception is that Carter is humbling himself despite being bumped to the fourth line and despite averaging fewer minutes over the last three games (8:28) than in any other stretch during his Penguins tenure.
Carter, 38, has one more season left on the two-year deal Hextall handed him just over a year ago. He’ll count $3.125 million against the salary cap next season and can’t be bought or traded because… who knows?
Hextall has never explained why he handcuffed himself without control under Carter’s contract. He left Sullivan to figure out what to do with Carter and then answer for it.
If Carter were the only problem for these Penguins, maybe they could overcome his regression and shortcomings.
He is not. He is far from it.
Hextall spent last summer trying to rebuild his defensive corps. He signed Jan Rutta and traded for Jeff Petry, neither of whom played Saturday night due to injuries, and neither of whom have failed to make much of an impact in their first seasons in Pittsburgh.
Hextall tried and failed to get rid of Marcus Pettersson in the offseason. That failure was a blessing in disguise, as Pettersson has developed into the team’s only consistently adequate defender besides Letang. (Pettersson suffered a lower-body injury Saturday night, and Sullivan said after the game that the coaches were evaluating him.)
Hextall traded John Marino, unless you buy Ty Smith as a future NHL star.
Few people in the NHL believe that Smith is an NHL-level player. No one can say for sure.
Smith has not been able to play regularly for the Penguins due to Hextall’s poor cap control.
Then there’s Dumoulin. He is the only defender Hextall didn’t try to move last summer, despite Dumoulin’s performance in previous seasons declining and only one year remaining on his contract.
At one point — let’s call them the glory days (2015-16 to 2017-18, when the Penguins won two championships and nine straight playoff series) — Dumoulin was a warrior, the ideal complement to Letang on the top defensive pairing. Those days are gone, and Dumoulin has spent most of this season looking like the irreplaceable piece he was on those great Penguins teams.
It is possible that Dumoulin had trade value last summer. By the trade deadline a few weeks ago, he had none. So Hextall didn’t even try to move him.
Instead, Hextall’s big move was to bring on board Mikael Granlund, who has made so little impact as to be almost forgotten, he’ll put $5 million on the cap over the next two seasons.
Back to Dumoulin, who inexplicably tried to pass the puck out of the defensive zone late in the first period penalty shootout on Saturday night. Unsurprisingly, his pass didn’t go clear, the Rangers kept possession and sent another puck past Jarry.
Dumoulin should have blasted the puck down the ice.
He should have done a lot of things this season. Most of the time he has tried and failed. This time he didn’t even get the entrepreneur part right.
Then there is Jarry, the number one goalkeeper only in theory.
He was pulled Saturday night for the fourth time in 11 starts. He has produced an .863 save percentage and a 4.17 goals-against average in those starts.
Sometimes the numbers tell the whole story. That’s true for Jarry, who has a save percentage below .900 in 14 starts since suffering the first of two injuries that have limited his appearances since Jan. 2.
“You guys have been asking me these questions for the last couple of weeks and my answers haven’t changed — it is what it is,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to get him reps, help him get there in a tough situation.”
Jarry also wasn’t healthy to play outside of the first round loss to the Rangers last season. He played it on a broken leg, to his credit.
The Penguins would have won that series — or so they believe — if Jarry and/or backup Casey DeSmith had been healthy. They were not.
Hey, injuries happen.
Last postseason, Jarry was the Penguins worst player in a series they should have won against the Islanders. DeSmith was also unable to play in that series due to injury.
Still, Hextall re-signed DeSmith last summer, banking on Jarry staying healthy even though Jarry had never played in at least 60 games or won a playoff series.
Of course, why search the free-agent market for a veteran linebacker — you know, if the injury-prone Jarry got hurt and/or didn’t play well enough — when bringing DeSmith back created more free time in the summer months?
Crosby, who rarely takes days off even in the summer, said everything you can expect from the NHL’s best captain after yet another depressing loss on Saturday night. He resisted calling this lopsided loss “an example of how we’ve been playing lately.”
“I think we’ve been playing some pretty good hockey lately,” Crosby said. “Tonight was difficult.”
Penguins are not in a very good field.
Crosby is the best player of his generation, so great that he has averaged at least one point per game in each of his 18 seasons. His longtime running backs, Malkin and Letang, will each join him in retirement in Pittsburgh and probably in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Yes, they wanted to end their careers where they began. They also wanted to win.
That’s why they again – and always have – took less money to allow GMs to surround them with teammates good enough to make it to the Cup. Sometimes those GMs (Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford) wobbled and passed, but at least they always had the Penguins to hunt.
Hextall inherited from Rutherford a roster that was headed for No. 1 in 2021. The Penguins finished third last season and then blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers.
This week, Hextall’s Penguins appeared in New York and were confused in “the most famous arena in the world.” They lost twice by a combined score of 10-2 and fell to 15-16-5 after the Rangers won 3-2 at home on Dec. 20.
“I think there’s a lot of teams that can win the Stanley Cup, and we’re one,” Hextall said on the 3rd.
His Penguins have won three games since then and could have just 13 games left if things continue the way they have been for the past three months.
(Top photo: Brad Penner/USA Today)