PITTSBURGH - When his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins comes to a close, Brian Dumoulin will depart as one of the greatest defensive defensemen in franchise history. His reliability on the blue line underlined the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 2016 and 2017.
However, the 31-year-old defenseman has lost a bit of his luster in his tenth season with the Penguins. After multiple major knee surgeries, Dumoulin has lost a few steps and isn't the skater he once was. That fact was prominent early in the season as Dumoulin would routinely get beaten off the rush and would struggle to get into a proper defensive position.
His decline in play was evident, and his numbers matched his apparent struggles. According to Natural Stat Trick, Dumoulin's 48.71% shot attempts share at 5v5 was better than only his defense partner, Kris Letang, among Penguins defensemen through the team's first 12 games. Dumoulin ranked last among Penguins defensemen in expected goals share (51.25%) and scoring chance share (46.41%).
After a home loss to the Seattle Kraken, the Penguins coaching staff changed their strategy with Dumoulin, dropping him down the lineup and separating him from Letang. This strategy has worked for associate coach Todd Reirden in the past with defensemen like Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson. Now it seems to be working for Dumoulin as well.
Since being bumped down to the second and third pairings, Dumoulin has done what every defensive defenseman wants to do, disappear. His extremely noticeable mistakes were one of the worst parts of the Penguins historic losing streak in October. A streak that abruptly came to an end in the first game after this lineup change.
He has quietly pieced together a solid few weeks in a reduced role on the Penguins blue line. Since his demotion, Dumoulin ranks second among the Penguins defensemen in shot attempts (53.21%) and expected goals (55.27%). He leads the Penguins defense core in scoring chances for percentage (56.00%) in that same span.
Dumoulin's success hasn't come in a vacuum. His turnaround is one piece in a puzzle that has led to a 9-2-2 stretch for the Penguins. They have only allowed 2.62 goals per game, compared to the 4.71 goals allowed per game during the long losing streak immediately prior.
Due to the nature of the Penguins salary cap situation, housing a $4.1 million defenseman on the bottom pairing may not be the most sustainable solution. Reports indicate that Penguins general manager Ron Hextall is searching for a trade partner to make room under the camp, and Dumoulin has increased his value with consistent play since his demotion.
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