Pittsburgh GM calls for 'more production' out of top players

Pittsburgh GM calls for 'more production' out of top players

In his press conference to address the firing of head coach Mike Johnston on Saturday, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said his team needs “more will to win.”

When asked directly about the lack of production of captain Sidney Crosby, Rutherford didn’t address Crosby, who has 19 points in 28 games, by name, and said Pittsburgh needed more scoring from several of their stars.

The Penguins rank 27th in the NHL in goals per-game at 2.38, though they also rank sixth in the league at goals allowed per-game at 2.32. Pittsburgh is 15-10-3, but currently out of a playoff spot. The Pens are 4-3-3 in their last 10 games.

“I do feel we need to get more production out of some guys, but I also recognize that the game of hockey isn’t what it was 10 or 20 years ago where you have teams dominating games and winning games on a regular basis by three, four or five goals,” Rutherford said. “The game has changed, the parity is a lot tighter but with that being said I do expect more production out of some guys.”

The power play has been a major issue for Pittsburgh this year. In spite of their bevy of offensive stars, including Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and others, the Pens rank 26th in the NHL with the man-advantage at 15.6 percent. A year ago the Penguins ranked ninth at 19.3 percent.

In Dan Bylsma’s last year as Penguins coach the team had the league’s top power play and fifth-ranked offense. Pittsburgh fired Bylsma two summers ago along with general manager Ray Shero. Both were replaced by Rutherford and Johnston.

“We have a lot of highly skilled players on the power play that can move the puck around,” Rutherford said. “It looks nice but moving the puck around doesn’t help you score goals.”

Rutherford said new coach Mike Sullivan reminds him of Peter Laviolette – the Nashville Predators coach who won a Stanley Cup with Rutherford with the Carolina Hurricanes. Rutherford added he wanted to bring in a coach his players didn’t totally know so the message can be fresh.

“I do see Mike as a guy that really is a demanding and take control guy,” Rutherford said.

The decision to fire Johnston wasn’t based on the coach’s usage of rookie Daniel Sprong. Rutherford had been critical of how Johnston deployed the player, but indicated his comments were blown out of proportion. Rutherford said he had been thinking of making a coaching change since mid-November.

“I made those comments earlier in the week, but we didn’t have a huge difference of opinion,” Rutherford said. “It happened that some other guys were starting to progress, but at the same time we have a time period with Daniel Sprong to see if he’s ready to stay and if he can contribute at this level. Even with what we’ve done it’s still been good for Daniel’s development. He’s learning the league and how to practice at a higher pace and things, but now hopefully he gets a little more ice-time. We’ll see how he does over the next 10 games.”

Rutherford did take some of the blame, saying the team didn’t have enough puck-moving defensemen. Since Rutherford took over the team let blueliners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik walk to their divisional rival, the Washington Capitals in unrestricted free agency. Rutherford also traded defenseman Simon Despres to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy in a move he has since regretted.

“Part of this falls on me because I didn’t get the defensemen that were necessary to have more movement from the back-end and I think more puck movement from the back-end generates more scoring opportunities,” Rutherford said.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!