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Insider Only Lessons Learned? A needed Defensive Overhaul for Penguins in 19-20 puts the microscope squarely on Kris Letang’s future in PIT

Changing the Core starts with a major defensive overhaul

How did the Penguins not come out of Round 1 with at least one win?

“I don’t have an answer for it,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “The reality is we win as a group and we lose a group and we’re all a part of it. We’ve all got to take responsibility. It’s disappointing. We had high expectations of this team. We believe we have good players and we have the potential to be a good team, and we obviously did not play well enough to win.”

What matters into the summer and next season on the ice is whether the New York Islanders four game sweep of the Penguins will actually be a lesson learned for the entire Penguins organization from management, coaches to the players?

The Penguins after their four game exit were at least saying all the right and obvious things about what they learned in the series.

“We’ve gotta be committed to a team game,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said in stating the obvious of what needs to change moving forward.

“They [Islanders] were a little bit hungrier,” Evgeni Malkin said. “They want more to win. They were blocking shots, forecheck, backcheck. They looked like they want more to win.”

That’s accurate but also quite the indictment of this hockey club from Evgeni Malkin who pretty much coasted all season and was just another guy in the regular season and playoffs.

How does the GM react to all of this?

With Jim Rutherford, he’s such a wildcard on how he’ll approach this off-season. When a plan gets developed, those who work under him don’t even know what he’ll do on a week-to-week basis. There’s been no direction under Rutherford with his personnel moves since the 2017-2018 season and one thing he’ll certainly do is make it an entertaining off-season with a number of a controversial moves I’m sure.

What’s scary with Rutherford moving forward is he totally went away from what worked in 2016 to things like getting spooked by Tom Wilson last spring that impacted roster decisions. Even antics such as Rutherford’s obsession of going to the media to talk up Jack Johnson constantly this season to defend a bad signing is troublesome, while most importantly just the lack of forward thinking with his roster decisions.

What the embarrassment of being swept to the Islanders does do is it has the chance of being a good thing for Mike Sullivan and the coaching staff that they need to adapt better next season around the personnel they have and this had to be a wake-up call of how much of a defensive overhaul this group needs from personnel to playing a different system defensively. Great coaches adapt and Sullivan getting ran out of the building by Barry Trotz should make him a better coach moving forward.

Most concerning, though, with the outlook for next season is how much this group tuned Sullivan out in playing the way he wants them to play. None more evident that the start in Game 4.

Jake Guentzel scores 35 seconds in and what do you know, just over a minute later Kris Letang doing Kris Letang things in showing awful situational awareness once again in turning the puck over on the wall in the offensive zone with no forward help and Jordan Eberle scores off the rush.

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The Brock Nelson goal late in the first period was more in-excusable defensive play where Marcus Pettersson and Erik Gudbranson are chasing Josh Bailey to the corner leaving the net-front open. Starting with Kris Letang, this coaching staff had no impact to rein-in this team defensively when it mattered most and this wasn’t just a four game thing.

Before Rutherford stresses the need to change the core and makes Phil Kessel the scapegoat which many around the league anticipate or before he calls up Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access" trade Olli Maatta, the organization has to Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access" Somehow Letang has earned this legacy status with ownership, sources say, but a proper evaluation this summer of changing the style of play to becoming a structurally responsible team and getting this team to playing a committed team game under Sullivan, it starts with moving out Letang.

Letang at age 31 is who he is. Sullivan and the defensive minded Jacques Martin are not changing him. Letang playing 27 minutes a night dictates the risky style of play this team plays with and lack of structured game that exposed the Penguins so much vs the Islanders.

You can’t talk of how you’re going to change the way you play and still have Letang roaming the ice nearly 30 minutes a night in the erratic nature he plays with. Finding value for Letang is another story as clubs have great concerns about his neck issue and coaches around the league Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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