Asst. GM Guerin admits Penguins need to lay off the refs

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Sportsnet host Doug MacLean didn’t tip-toe around the issue when Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin appeared on Hockey Central today.

“Your team whines quite a bit,” MacLean said. “It’s hurt you at times in key situations, and I think it’s hurt you at playoff time.”

Care to respond?

To his credit, Guerin didn’t fight the notion, conceding it’s “definitely an area that we’ve identified as being an issue at times. …  The referees are out there, they do a fantastic job, the game’s faster than ever, and it’s really hard to pick things up sometimes with just the naked eye. … We just have to flat-out be better.”

Guerin isn’t the first member of the organization to admit the Penguins have a PR problem when it comes to the officials.

“I think [compared] to a few years ago I think we’ve been better, but it’s the way that people see us,” d-man Kris Letang said earlier this week, per the Post-Gazette. “They think we’re always all over the referees. We need to get better at that. Even better than what we did this year. We have to control what we can control and not worry about those things.”

Letang, of course, was ejected Sunday in Detroit for unsportsmanlike conduct towards the referees. Teammates Steve Downie and Chris Kunitz also received 10-minute misconducts in that contest. In fact, Downie took two.

“That can’t happen this time of year. We have to correct that,” captain Sidney Crosby said afterward.

“It’s an emotional game. As individuals, we’ve all been there at certain points and done certain things. But when it does happen, it’s usually one guy who gets a little too intense or that kind of thing. But today, it was too many. We can’t let that happen.”

Of course, the Penguins already had a well-earned reputation for losing their composure, making what happened during Sunday’s nationally televised game even more of a hot topic.

We’ll see if they can keep it together in the playoffs.

Downie: ‘I can’t take penalties this time of year’

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Penguins coach Mike Johnston is concerned over Steve Downie’s lack of discipline and has been talking to the 27-year-old forward about it since at least November.

And yet Downie still leads the league in penalty minutes (221) and minors (43). He also has nine misconducts in 2014-15, which is triple the next highest player. That factors in the two 10-minute penalties he received on Sunday, including one for pushing a linesman.

With all that in mind, will Downie change his game at this stage of the season? That’s his goal.

“It’s tough (to be physical but avoid the penalty box), but at the end of the day I can’t take penalties this time of year,” Downie told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Discipline-wise, I haven’t been very good the past two games. But that will change. I will be better now.”

It’s worth adding that Pittsburgh’s penalty troubles don’t start and end with Downie. The Penguins are the second worst team in the league with 304 minor penalties and even if you remove Downie entirely (and assume whoever took his minutes never got into trouble), Pittsburgh would still be in the bottom third of the league. In addition to Downie, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are also in the top-30 when it comes to minor penalties. Fortunately for them, the Penguins also have one of the best penalty kills in the NHL.

Additionally, while Downie hasn’t played in a postseason game since 2011, he was very effective in that run, scoring two goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If he has another strong playoff showing in 2015, then it will be easy for the Penguins to look past his regular season penalty troubles.

Video: Downie surpasses 200 PIM mark by pushing linesman

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No one has surpassed the 200 penalty minute mark with the Pittsburgh Penguins since Rick Tocchet and Ulf Samuelsson did so in 1992-93 (252 and 249 PIM respectively). Then the Penguins signed Steve Downie to a one-year contract.

Downie went into Sunday’s game with a league-leading 199 penalty minutes in 60 contests. He became the first player this season to get over 200 minutes by pushing a linesman, which resulted in a 10-minute misconduct:

The 27-year-old forward also got two minutes for cross checking late in the second period and another 10-minute misconduct in the third frame.

Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang were handed 10-minute and game misconducts respectively. Kunitz shot a puck at a referee following the first period, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe while Letang was booted for arguing with an official.

Rutherford: ‘Our guys felt very strongly about reacquiring’ Lovejoy

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Of all the trades completed today, was there one that left fans angrier than the one that saw Pittsburgh trade 23-year-old defenseman Simon Després to Anaheim for 31-year-old blue-liner Ben Lovejoy?

If there was, we missed it. Based on the comments we got here at PHT, the majority of Penguins fans were positively irate with GM Jim Rutherford for trading away young Després. 

According to Rutherford, however, Lovejoy was a player that was highly coveted by those within the organization.

“He’s developed into a solid, consistent player,” he said. “Our guys felt very strongly about reacquiring this player.”

The Pens also acquired d-man Ian Cole, 26, from St. Louis, in return for 25-year-old defenseman Roberto Bortuzzo.

“When we looked at our defense, despite the fact that it’s played pretty well at this point, we were concerned about the experience,” Rutherford explained, per the club’s website. “We were looking to upgrade, add more of a veteran presence.

“We felt to have a good run in the playoffs we needed more experience and that’s why we made these two deals.”

The Pens certainly have experience back there now, with Lovejoy joining a blue-line corps that already included Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, and Rob Scuderi.

And to be fair to Rutherford, perhaps he felt giving up Després was worth the risk with youngsters Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot in the organization.

That being said, these deals will only increase the pressure on the Penguins to make a deep run in the playoffs. You can bet the fans will remember today if things don’t go well.

Penguins stretch streak to four with win over the Jackets

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Evgeni Malkin scored twice and added an assist for his third consecutive three-point game as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 Sunday night.

David Perron, Derrick Pouliot and Steve Downie had the other Penguins goals.

Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang each had two assists in the win.

With the win, the Penguins have now won four straight games. Pittsburgh also avoided a third straight loss against Columbus this season.

Crosby and Malkin are now tied with 64 points one back of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, New York Islanders captain John Tavares and Flyers’ forward Jakub Voracek for the league-lead.

“I thought there was a time two weeks ago when [Malkin] had a little bit of a lapse in his game,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said per NHL.com. “Other than that, I have not seen it all year. I’ve seen a lot of intensity in his game, and the more emotion and intensity he has in the game, the better his game is. You saw it right away. You can see it early in the game with him. He gets out there, he’s skating.
“He’s hard on the loose pucks, he’s lifting sticks, and when he’s engaged like that in the game as he has been, he can be a dominant player like he was tonight.”

Marc-Andre Fleury improved to 29-13-6 with a 22-save performance.

Ryan Johansen had a goal and an assist in the loss. James Wisniewski and Nick Foligno had the others for the Jackets.

Curtis McElhinney made 36 saves in the loss.