Crosby, Penguins keeping focus on games, not front office hires

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CRANBERRY, Pa. — Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are ready to move forward after two chaotic weeks.

The Penguins on Tuesday hired Ron Hextall as general manager and Brian Burke as president of hockey operations, and Crosby said Wednesday he was looking forward to getting to know them.

“I’ve crossed paths (with Burke and Hextall) over the years but don’t know them particularly well,” Crosby said. “Heard great things. Obviously you know with our situation that there’s a process going on with those two being named. Everyone’s excited to meet them and kind of move forward.”

Video: NHL Now on the Penguins new front office hires

One aspect of Hextall’s past that Crosby is well aware of is his tenure as general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, a position Hextall held from May 7, 2014, until he was fired Nov. 26, 2018, and replaced by Chuck Fletcher.

“It’s funny when you think about it,” Crosby said. “You probably don’t ever anticipate that, but at the same time I think you find yourself saying that a lot in hockey. It finds a way of kind of bringing people together in different circumstances. In this case, it’s not any different.

“You think about rivalries and players getting traded and things like that, how many times you see things like this happen. So it’s funny to think about now, but looking back you probably wouldn’t have expected this.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan also doesn’t have a previous connection to Hextall. Sullivan said he has a long-standing relationship with Burke and looks forward to building a similar one with the new general manager, who is replacing Jim Rutherford, who resigned Jan. 27.

Since then, three games against the New Jersey Devils were postponed because of NHL COVID-19 protocol and their injury list continued to expand. The Penguins play at the New York Islanders on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SN360, SNP, MSG+, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV), their first game since a 4-3 loss at the Islanders on Saturday.

“I think there’s so much going on just from [an] injury standpoint, games being shifted and moved,” Crosby said. “I think it’s something we understand that there’s other people within the organization that do the interviews and conduct this sort of stuff. Our job is just on playing and focusing on that.”

The Penguins (5-5-1) are fifth in the MassMutual East Division after losing four of their past five games (1-3-1).

“I look at it as an opportunity,” Sullivan said. “[Hextall and Burke] are really smart guys. They’ve been around the game a long time. They’ve got a ton of experience on managing teams and building teams, and supporting teams to make them better. So I don’t look at it as a challenge. It’s just more of an opportunity.

“I think the objective is the same and that’s to do our very best to try to win the Stanley Cup with the core that we have here and try to surround these guys with the best possible people and play a style of play that gives us the best chance to be successful.”

Defenseman Marcus Pettersson could be nearing a return from an upper-body injury after practicing in a no-contact jersey Wednesday. He has been out for seven games.

Forward Zach-Aston Reese could make his season debut soon after having offseason surgery on his left shoulder, but forward Jared McCann is considered week to week after initially being listed as day to day because of a lower-body injury sustained Saturday.

The rest of the injury list includes forward Evan Rodrigues (lower body), and defensemen Brian Dumoulin (lower body), Juuso Riikola (upper body) and Zach Trotman (knee).

Crosby said the players’ focus has been on figuring out how to play well despite the injuries, and that remains the case with Burke and Hextall on board.

“With all the other things we have kind of going on, I think we had a lot to focus on,” Crosby said. “I think our mindset, our mentality, has just been on playing games and making sure we’re getting better.”

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