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Hey, Brian Dumoulin Playing Much Better; Pens’ Circle of Life (+)

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Brian Dumoulin

Criticism and spotty performance dogged Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin for the better part of the first half of the season, but some irony, recent injuries, and necessity spurred Dumoulin’s season. Last week, coach Mike Sullivan noted Dumoulin is playing his best hockey of the season, even if the defenseman more recently tried to sidestep the notion.

The consternation regarding Dumoulin was thick and probably well-earned. This season, Dumoulin appeared to have aged years since returning from an MCL tear suffered in Game 1 of the Penguins’ Round One loss to the New York Rangers.

No stat can frame his struggles greater than his home and road split. When Sullivan gets the last change at home, Dumoulin is a plus-10. On the road, when opposing coaches can attack, Dumoulin is a minus-11.

In the Penguins’ fanbase this season, the 31-year-old defenseman didn’t quite get the full Jack Johnson, but it was building. Fortunately, for the 6-foot-3 stay-home defenseman, the trend is reversing.

Perhaps the worst move Dumoulin has made in the last few weeks was leaving the 1985 studio album by Heart called “Heart” on his locker room playlist.

Indeed, what about love?

“I think Dumo has played best hockey here as of late,” Sullivan said on Jan. 13. “And we’re going to need him to continue to do that moving forward.”

Dumoulin, 31, has improved over the past couple of weeks, and there’s no reason to think Sullivan would retract his compliment.

On Saturday morning, Dumoulin sidestepped specifics but admitted he’s recently made changes to reverse course.

“I’ve changed some stuff up,” Dumoulin said. “(I’m) just trying to get back to where I was a couple of years ago — just the consistency and small things.”

Brian Dumoulin Injury & Improvement

A Grade 3 MCL tear can take eight-to-16 weeks to heal, though Dumoulin downplayed lingering effects from the injury last week. Neither Dumoulin nor Sullivan used the injury as an excuse, even as Sullivan added to his support Wednesday morning in Ottawa.

“I think he seems to be executing better when he has the puck. He’s making better decisions. I think he’s defending hard,” Sullivan said. “The one thing about Dumo is his care factor, his professionalism. We would never question whether this guy is totally invested in helping the Penguins win.

In November, Dumoulin was moved from the top pairing with Kris Letang and shuffled around the pairings. He spent some time with Jeff Petry but more time with Jan Rutta on the third pair.

The advanced stats weren’t kind to the Dumoulin-Rutta pairing, nor were the baseline stats. The pair had a 46% shot-attempt ratio in about 269 minutes of 5v5 play. Worse, the pair was on the ice for a 25% goals-for ratio (5-15).

The homogeny of their games wasn’t the best mix, but then Kris Letang suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 28 and has been out of the lineup since.

The Penguins recalled Ty Smith from the WBS Penguins, and Dumoulin’s career arc came full circle. It wasn’t long ago that defenseman Ben Lovejoy was in Dumoulin’s ear throughout his first full NHL season in 2015-16.

“Every player goes through their ups and downs throughout the course of seasons or their careers. And so I just think (Dumoulin) is doing a much better job just executing on plays that are there,” Sullivan said. “I think he’s making better decisions with the puck. I’m sure that breeds confidence, and that certainly helps him when he goes over the boards that next time to make the next play. I think that is just the human element of sports, and confidence is a big part of it.”

Smith, 22, told PHN that Dumoulin had been in his ear. Until Smith was scratched in the last two games after a rough night against Ottawa last Wednesday, the Dumoulin-Smith pairing bettered both defensemen.

Unlike pairings with Petry, Rutta, and even Kris Letang, the Brian Dumoulin-Ty Smith pair had positive stats up and down the line. They posted a 63% Corsi in nine games, a perfect goals-for rating (4-0), and a 60% scoring chance rate.

Not bad for a d-man that fans were ready to serve a few plates of press box nachos and another d-man who didn’t make the team out of camp.

“I think I’ve been consistent, which is obviously the game I need to bring to this team,” Dumoulin said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries to the back end, so I’ve had to step up to play my best hockey right now.”

Perhaps it’s not much of a coincidence that Mark Friedman also played a pair of solid games over the past week while paired with Dumoulin.

Dumoulin’s re-emergence also resoundingly removes one of the Penguins’ needs before the March 3 NHL trade deadline.

And perhaps it’s the circle of career. From a young defenseman trapped in the AHL for a few seasons until he figured out the NHL game with help from a veteran defenseman to becoming that veteran talking the youngsters through their baptism by fire.

It’s a full circle back to his better game for Dumoulin and a Penguins’ circle of life.

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
9 days ago

Now start looking for a trade partner to deal him.

Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
9 days ago
Reply to  Mark Fisher

No happening

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
9 days ago
Reply to  Chase Cranson

Unfortunately.

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
9 days ago

We’re it not for Kapanen, Dumolin would have gotten the “full Jack Johnson” treatment.

Cal
Cal
9 days ago

Yes he actually looked good in his last game, he had a jump to the puck that I haven’t noticed so far this year.

William R. Maloni
William R. Maloni
5 days ago

Dan–No Caps game coverage or did I miss something?