NHL

Hextall says the penguins are “beating ourselves up,” will seeing an old enemy help course-correct?

Hextall says the penguins are “beating ourselves up,” will seeing an old enemy help course-correct?

Ron Hextall doesn’t speak to the media very often, but when he does it’s often candid and carries some weight. Hextall gave some of his thoughts on the Penguins’ seven-game losing streak to Pierre LeBrun in The Athletic:

Although I had additional comments, the most important part boiled down to this:

“Our special teams haven’t helped us,” Hextall said. “Our penalty kill has been really poor. I think there’s some personnel stuff; obviously we’ve got some new guys, and we’ve had Teddy (Blueger) out and Jeff Carter out, those are two of our matchup guys. But no excuses. Because we have to be better.PK was very good [Saturday] night, so hopefully it’s a step in the right direction. And yes, take something out of your power play. It’s one thing to get a goal, but I think the momentum and the feeling that your team gets out of it is hard to quantify, but it’s real.

“Special teams is definitely an area where we need to be better. But I think it’s probably a bit of a microcosm of our play over the last seven games.”

There was a calm in Hextall’s voice. These are not words just for public consumption. I get the feeling from his measured tone that he really thinks this is a bump in the road.

“The good news and the bad news is that we’re beating ourselves up,” he said. “It’s been a bit of a collective team effort, to be honest. Look at our PK, our PP, the turnovers at inopportune times, the bad decisions, the defensive play, there’s a lot of it. We sit here and say, “We’re making glaring mistakes that this group doesn’t normally make.”

“Again, the good news and the bad news: We’re beating ourselves up. But we still think we’re a very capable team.”

As usual with Hextall, there will be no overreaction to a bad stretch. He’s not going to trade a player just to trade a player and shake things up (hello, Jim Rutherford trading Carl Hagelin).

Overall, Hextall seems correct in a balanced assessment. A team that should have Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger as backline centers has had to put together Ryan Poehling, Drew O’Connor and Sam Poulin. This comes at a cost.

That cost is being paid on special teams like the PK, and in the faceoff circle in general, leading to unfortunate mistakes at the wrong times.

It’s interesting, and probably true, that Hextall’s feeling is that the team is finding ways to overcome itself in the last two weeks. Sometimes it’s the PK, a lot of times lately, it’s also been the power play. Or have they been defensive mistakes. Maybe sometimes an extra save has been expected from a goalkeeper. But it’s always been something.

LeBrun’s article also mentioned the early season struggles and frustrations the St. Johns are having as well. Louis Blues and the Washington Capitals. The Pens and Caps play Wednesday night for the first time this season. This quote from Washington coach Peter Laviolette after the Caps blew a 2-0 lead in the third period in Arizona could be something Mike Sullivan has said or thought in recent days:

Hextall said that “I think we’re going to get out of this,” which is good reason to think he’ll stay the course a little longer and see what this team can do to get back on track.

It’s been a tough last two weeks in Pittsburgh, but it’s also a long season. In a few days we will see which of the old rivals between Pens and Caps can give themselves a big confidence boost by winning against the other. At this rate, both veteran teams will be desperate to try and sort out their games before it’s suddenly too late to do so.





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