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Penguins Change Top Defense Pairings On the Fly

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Marcus Pettersson

CRANBERRY — The Pittsburgh Penguins were getting embarrassed by Columbus at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night, and on the home team’s bench, players sensed that things had to change.

Which they did. In many ways.

Starting with a reconfiguration of the Penguins’ top two defense pairings.

Was putting Marcus Pettersson with Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin with Jeff Petry after the Penguins fell behind, 4-0, in the second period the reason they rallied to pull out a 5-4 overtime victory?

Perhaps.

One of them, anyway.

Probably not the biggest one, but it likely wasn’t a coincidence that the game began to turn in the Penguins’ favor after coach Mike Sullivan made the switch.

“Once we made those changes, I think, obviously, the team was playing better,” Petry said after practice Wednesday. “As pairings … that’s just something that, throughout the course of the year, (when) games aren’t going well, you try to mix some things up.”

Considering the circumstances, moving some people around — whether up front, on defense, or both — was perfectly reasonable, in an effort to get the team going.

“Usually, when we make changes, there are reasons for it,” Sullivan said. “Whether it be performance or we don’t like what we’re seeing, there’s a number of reasons why, usually, those occur. When we make those types of changes, it’s because we’re not satisfied with where we’re at.”

That certainly was understandable, in light of how the first 22-plus minutes had unfolded.

The Dumoulin-Letang tandem remained intact for one shift after Liam Foudy’s goal at 2:13 of the second put Columbus up by four, but when the teams lined up for a faceoff at 6:50, Dumoulin was with Petry.

On the shift that followed, Pettersson was paired with Letang, and he remained there the rest of the evening.

Given that the Penguins scored the next five goals, it was logical that the revamped pairings remained intact for practice¬†— “It didn’t come as a huge surprise to me,” Petry said — and that they will at least start the Penguins’ game against the New York Islanders Thursday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.

While Pettersson and Letang have considerable experience together, Petry and Dumoulin have been paired only sporadically this season, Petry’s first with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pettersson and Dumoulin do share some traits, however. One is a penchant for maintaining almost-constant communication with their partner, regardless of who it might be.

“Marcus talks a lot on the ice, and (Dumoulin), he’s a guy who talks a lot on the ice,” Petry said. “Even on the bench, when you’re skating up with the puck, he’s kind of another set of eyes. He’s always talking … to make plays easier, make processing the game a little bit quicker.”

Letang and Petry, who man the right side on the top two pairings, have a good bit in common, too.

Both have the skills, instincts and inclination to get involved in the offense at times, which means they benefit from having partners like Pettersson and Dumoulin, whose styles make defensive responsibility the top priority.

That eases the adjustment for all concerned when a switch like the one Tuesday is made.

“(Letang) likes to get up on the rush, but so does Jeff,” Pettersson said. “So I try to play the same way, try to not change my game too much.”