Friday, February 13, 2015

Admiring Rutherford's work

Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, 10:48 p.m.

 David Perron #39 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his shoot-out goal against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on February 12, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even a blown three-goal lead at Ottawa could not alter the significance of the Penguins' 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings a night earlier.

If you were looking for a playoff preview — and maybe a clear view of the rationale behind general manager Jim Rutherford's roster building — that was the night. It so happened that all four Penguins goals were playoff-type goals scored by playoff-type players brought in by Rutherford …

• Patric Hornqvist off a carom 2 feet from the goaltender.

• David Perron on a rebound.

• Blake Comeau on a one-timer from point-blank range.

• Nick Spaling on a deflection.

If the Penguins fail to reach the Stanley Cup Final, it won't be on account of an allergy to blue paint, something that plagued a few of Dan Bylsma's teams. I don't think you'll be hearing any goalies talking the way Henrik Lundqvist did during the Penguins-Rangers series last year, either.

Lundqvist did not mean to be insulting, but his words came off as a blistering indictment. He spoke innocently of the Penguins as a team that likes to make plays, then added, “They're not a team that's going to always be in front of you, hack and whack.”

Now they are.

They've gone from cutesy to brute-sy.

Perron brings an edge to his game I didn't know he had. Hornqvist is a maniac. He's also scoring at an equal clip to James Neal (Hornqvist is averaging 0.37 goals per game, Neal 0.38). Comeau, Spaling, Steve Downie and Maxim Lapierre add either size, attitude or both.

I also like the way coach Mike Johnston spoke of his team Wednesday. Less “Get north.” More “Get south.” As in, get your rear ends back. Prevent goals.

This was Johnston to Pierre McGuire during a stellar first period: “We've had good back pressure through the neutral zone. Against a team like this, you've got to be coming back on them, for sure, from the backside.”

Back pressure. That's a term we're not used to hearing in these parts.

I agreed with Mike Milbury (for once), when he said, “This is the best I've seen the Penguins play in a long time.” It also was the closest the Penguins had been to healthy in a long time. Amazing how that works.

Rutherford still might try to find a second-line winger, but the way things are configured, Jaromir Jagr probably wouldn't fit. The top two right wingers are going to be Perron and Hornqvist.

It's more realistic that the third line will be upgraded. It should be. Size is needed.

The Penguins' third line, in many ways, won them the Cup in '09. Look at Washington's mammoth third line. 
That's what you need. And that is why Rutherford reportedly has interest in Toronto winger Daniel Winnik — as a playoff kind of guy. Rutherford's had his eyes on the playoffs since the minute he got here.

It showed on Wednesday night.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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