Six straight losses for the Pittsburgh Penguins have the team and its fanbase searching for answers. To find those answers, they have to make sure to ask the right questions.
The debate about whether Rickard Rakell or Bryan Rust should be on the top line with Sidney Crosby is of no consequence when both players are as close in talent and ability as they are. Instead, the question is, "Why is the Penguin's worst performing defenseman being deployed on the top pairing?"
Brian Dumoulin has had a fantastic career as the Penguin's lead defensive defenseman over the past eight seasons. However, the player that stifled opposing offenses en route to back-to-back cups has been nowhere to be found through the beginning of this season.
Dumoulin is currently tied with Dimitry Kulikov of the Anaheim Ducks for the most goals against in the NHL. He has been on the ice for 21 of the Penguin's 41 goals allowed this season and has been the centerpiece of many defensive breakdowns leading to opposing goals.
Despite his performance, Dumoulin still resides on the left side of the Penguin's top defense pairing with Kris Letang. Dumoulin is averaging 20:45 of ice time, the third-highest mark on the Penguins behind only Letang and Jeff Petry.
While banishing Dumoulin isn't the answer, finding a more sheltered role for him with less ice time and lesser competition should be high on the Penguin's list of priorities. Marcus Pettersson and P.O. Joseph deserve a shot at top pairing minutes with how they have performed through the first 11 games.
Another question for the Penguins is their third line. With Jeff Carter out with an injury, Drew O'Connor has been the most noticeable player on that line, leaving Danton Heinen and Kasperi Kapanen mostly invisible through this losing stretch.
Heinen and Kapanen have combined for 0 points during this six-game losing streak and received less ice time against the Sabres than the Penguin's fourth line of Ryan Poehling, Josh Archibald, and Brock McGinn.
Teddy Blueger is eligible to return this weekend against the Seattle Kraken, which will help the Penguin's depth. But with Kapanen and Heinen underperforming, the Penguins are forced to rely on their top six to produce all of the offense. It has taken a noticeable toll on the stamina of the Penguins stars, which has led, in part, to their late-game meltdowns.
With a lack of roster flexibility and viable replacement options, the Penguins will need their third line to step up and do more to support the top of the lineup. The Penguins have just one game in the next six days. Plenty of time to figure things out, but they must ask the right questions to get the answers to their struggles.
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