"It's total nitpicking because there's nothing wrong with him," Rutherford said Monday at the general managers meeting. "His play, to me, has been as good as it's ever been."
Crosby leads the Penguins with 71 points (23 goals, 48 assists).
A season after winning the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP and Art Ross Trophy with the most points (104), Crosby's goals and points per game are down from his career average. He's still at 1.11 points a game and is one back of the New York Islanders' John Tavares for the NHL lead despite playing in seven fewer games.
Crosby said last week that he was healthy and wouldn't change anything about his game. From Rutherford's perspective, Crosby has already changed, but in a good way, by getting more accustomed to playing to coach Mike Johnston's style.
"From an overall team point of view, and what's needed to be done to be successful, he's made that adjustment and done it very well," Rutherford said. "It's coming back into your own end, playing both ends of the rink. No cheating. Playing the game the way it should be played. And he's bought into that."
Crosby's advanced stats are among the top 20 forwards in the league. The Cole Harbour, N.S., native has been on the ice for 214 more shot attempts for the Penguins than opponents, a good measure that he has the puck a lot.
Rutherford, who joined the Penguins last summer after serving as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, has been impressed with Crosby's preparation and "how he responds to things and where his game is now where he's playing an all-around game."
While Crosby was back in Pittsburgh's lineup Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings, fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin was not. Rutherford said Monday that Malkin would be out seven to 14 days with a lower-body injury and that forward Patric Hornqvist would miss about a week.
"As long as we can get healthy, I feel good about our team," Rutherford said.
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