Penguins Weekly: Hextall Hire Brings Positive Outlook to Deflated Team

Somehow, it has been both a busy and pretty mundane week for the Pittsburgh Penguins as a handful of games were canceled due to COVID-19 protocol, but new hirings kept things interesting throughout the week.

The Penguins dropped a tough game against the New York Rangers, 3-1, on Monday before the New Jersey Devils entered COVID-19 protocol, forcing Tuesday and Thursday’s games to be postponed. Then, on Saturday, the Penguins fell to the Islanders in a heartbreaking fashion after Anders Lee’s third-period goal that lifted New York to a 4-3 win.

During the downtime, however, the Penguins filled the general manager void by agreeing to terms with former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender and general manager Ron Hextall. Shortly after, Brian Burke was named President of Hockey Operations.

Ron Hextall agreed to become the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, here’s a few takeaways from this week of Penguins hockey.

New Management Could Revive Penguins

It certainly hasn’t been the start to the 2020-21 season that the Penguins envisioned. As the team has seen its fair share of struggles throughout the season, there could be a new light at the end of the tunnel.

The hiring of Hextall and Burke could be just what the Pens needed.

Let’s be honest, after winning back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins were a little stagnant under former general manager Jim Rutherford. Things weren’t necessarily changing for the better, the goaltending problem was nagging and the prospect pool along with the lack of draft picks were and still are concerning.

In the past seven years, the Penguins have only had two first-round picks, Kasperi Kapanen and Samuel Poulin, and do not have a first-round selection in the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft as it was a part of the Jason Zucker trade.

Samuel Poulin Penguins Draft
Samuel Poulin, drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2019 NHL Draft, is the Penguins’ only first round pick in the last five years. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There were also a few questionable trades by Rutherford, including the trade that sent a solidified defenseman in Olli Maatta to Chicago for Dominik Kahun, who did little during his cup of coffee with Pittsburgh, and a fifth-round pick. But, there were also exceptional trades made by Rutherford like deals that brought players like Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to Pittsburgh.

All in all, Rutherford made some amazing transactions during his stint with the Penguins and has a pair of rings to show for it. But, in all honesty, he left the Penguins in disarray, leaving Hextall to pick up the pieces.

Power Play Showing Little Power

Moving on to the on-ice issues.

First and foremost, the power play is near the top of the Penguins’ list as far as issues that need to be addressed. Currently, the Penguins are ranked 23rd in the NHL in power-play percentage at 13.9 and are on a 0-for-19 slump.

Not only does Auston Matthews have more even-strength goals (8) than the Penguins have power-play goals (5), but two players, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk have as many power-play goals themselves as the Pens.

It’s that bad.

Sure, the Pens could be ranked 24th or even 31st, but for a power-play unit that boasts the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel, there should be more success.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby leads the Penguins in power play goals with two. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s getting to the point where the poorest power play is dragging the team down. Hopefully, the units got some work in during the layoff.

Housekeeping

With the virus issues affecting the Penguins’ schedule, the NHL announced the rescheduling of eight Pens games on Saturday. As it stands right now, the Penguins will be back in action on Thursday when they travel to Long Island to take on the Islanders at 7 P.M. Eastern.


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