After relegation to third pairing, Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin vows ‘I can be better’

After relegation to third pairing, Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin vows ‘I can be better’

It was a bold decision at a critical time.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were in the midst of a must-win scenario.

Mike Sullivan made the decision and it paid off almost immediately.

In Game 6 of a second-round series against the hated Washington Capitals, All-Star defenseman Kris Letang matched up with Brian Dumoulin, a rising young defenseman in his first full NHL season.

They had rarely been paired before this. Dumoulin had primarily played with Ben Lovejoy, and Letang had primarily skated with Olli Maatta.

Despite any remarkable history between them, Letang and Dumoulin were tasked with the considerable task of facing Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin.

And it worked. Ovechkin was limited to two assists, each on the power play. In terms of puck possession, it was a tie, with 11 shot attempts for and against each team. Natural Stats Trick.

At the end of the night, the Penguins won the game 4-3 in overtime thanks to a goal by forward Nick Bonino and won this series 4-2. In the process, they found a new top partner they would lean on for the next half decade and change.

So it’s somewhat poetic that that bond has been broken, perhaps only temporarily, as the Penguins take on the rival Capitals on Wednesday in search of a much-needed win.

On Tuesday, the Penguins, in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, opted to mix up their three defensive pairings and bottom two lines in practice at their facility in Cranberry a day before facing the Capitals in the country’s capital.

The most notable change was up front, as Letang skated with Marcus Pettersson while Dumoulin was relegated to the third pairing, working primarily with Jan Rutta (with a side of reserve Chad Ruhwedel sprinkled in).

The second pairing paired PO Joseph with Jeff Petry.

Up front, the third line consisted of Brock McGinn, Jeff Carter and Danton Heinen, and the fourth line included rookie Filip Hallander, Ryan Poehling and Josh Archibald.

A “fifth” line featured rookie Sam Poulin, the injured Teddy Blueger and a disappointing Kasperi Kapanen.

Having gone more than two weeks since their last win on Oct. 22, no change is too drastic for the Penguins. It includes their proven top pairing of Dumoulin and Letang.

“We have to right the ship here,” Dumoulin said. “We’ve got to get some consistency. Obviously, we haven’t been getting the results these last few games. Obviously, we’ve been doing some good things, but right now we can’t be checking those boxes right now. We’ve got to start winning- the bear”.

While no one in a Penguins jersey is in a position to brag about their play during this awful seven-game stretch, Dumoulin’s play has stood out. And for no good reason.

Overall this season, the Penguins have been outscored 23-11 when Dumoulin is on the ice. The two most recent goals against came during a 3-2 home loss to the Seattle Kraken on Saturday, including the game-winning goal by former Penguins forward Brandon Tanev.

The 10-year veteran doesn’t shy away from responsibility for his subpar play.

“Obviously, I can be better,” Dumoulin said. “I haven’t been turning the puck over, but I think I can make that big play a little bit more defensively, whether it’s a two-on-one (snap) or a time and place in the game. I feel like I can step up and make that defensive play that can be the difference between winning and losing right now.”

Dumoulin will presumably work with Rutta in Wednesday’s game. He compared Rutta to one of his former defensive partners.

“He’s very reliable, very consistent,” Dumoulin said. “And he’s simple, which is nice. I played with a guy like Ben Lovejeoy then. You remember him. He’s tough to play against. He’s tough defensively. He doesn’t get hit too much. There are some similar attributes in that.”

Most of Dumoulin’s game has been to this point in the season. Accept responsibility for this and profess the expectation of correcting these errors.

“Obviously, you have to weigh percentages and threats and who is the biggest threat and who is most likely to become a target,” Dumoulin said. “There’s a lot that goes into this. In a split second, you’re trying to make that decision. At the end of the day, this is a decision between possibly a target and possibly not. At this point, you just have to read better and trust my instincts a little more defensive.”

Seth Rorabaugh is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or through Twitter .

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