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The penguins may have found something with Ty Smith and Brian Dumoulin’s mating

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the Pittsburgh Penguins They’ve had some issues lately, and a lot of them have revolved around some absences in defense (and in goal) that have left them very short on some key points.

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But those absences may also have helped them solve at least one problem and possibly give them a potential third defensive pair that could work when everyone is back in the lineup.

It’s Ty Smith and Brian Dumoulin.

Dumoulin has been one of the most talked about issues on the Penguins roster this season, and as harsh as it gets at times, a lot of it is justified. Not necessarily directed at him because he’s just doing what he can, but more so on the coaching staff to keep playing him like he’s 27-year-old Brian Dumoulin.

There was a very large period of the season where it seemed like every time something bad happened on the ice for the Penguins, Dumoulin was in his position and it didn’t matter who his defensive partner was.

The pairing of the usually reliable and domineering Kris Letang-Dumoulin? did not work.

Dumoulin with Jeff Petrie? did not work.

Dumoulin with Jean Rota? Absolutely did not work.

Although it’s only a small sample of about eight games and about 70 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, the Smith-Dumoulin pairing has been one of the more productive defense pairings the Penguins have used all season.

They have great possession and scoring opportunity numbers with a better than 65 percent share across the board in terms of total shot attempts, scoring chances, high-risk scoring opportunities, and expected goals, and they outpace opponents by 4-0 when they’re on the ice.

It was a very interesting development, and one of the few we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks where every other defensive duo has struggled badly in the absence of Letang and Petrie. that should be expected.

I think the biggest twist to the Smith-Dumoulin pairing is one of the uses, and the Penguins coaching staff has protected them a bit in the sense that they get the vast majority of the offensive zone starts in their bouts. Over the past eight games, they’ve started nearly 80 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone, by far the highest percentage of any defensive pair the team has used. Only one couple who played at least 20 minutes together (Chad Rohwedel and Pierre-Olivier Joseph) topped 43 percent over that time, and they didn’t play much to begin with.

I think this is mostly to house Smith (whose defensive zone play isn’t his strength) but it has helped Dumoulin as well.

This is a potentially good development for penguins for several reasons.

First of all, you want to see Smith as a productive player after John Marino (who had a really good season in New Jersey) was traded in for him. You want to get something out of this deal, and Smith is the kind of young player the Penguins need to be productive.

Second, as long as Dumoulin is on the roster, he will play because it’s very clear that head coach Mike Sullivan has no interest in scratching a player’s health that was so important to the Penguins. So you have to put him in positions where he can still succeed. If you find something that works here, stick with it.

Third, if it works, I don’t hate penguins defense when everyone is healthy.

I still strongly believe that a lot of the Penguins’ issues will suddenly go away when they take back the two best defenders (and the starting goalkeeper) in the lineup and play them again in the top four. And I’m not just talking about defensive play. They will help offensively and (in Letang’s case) power play as well.

What would I like to see when everyone returns?

I’d like to see Letang and Pettersson in the top pairing, Petry and Pierre-Olivier Joseph in the second pairing, and Smith commit Dumoulin in the third pairing.

That could work, and it could allow the Penguins to focus all of their trade deadline efforts on improving their bottom six.

[Data In This Post Via Natural Stat Trick]

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