Penguins notebook: Pouliot returns to fill in for Dumoulin

| Sunday, March 27, 2016, 8:51 p.m.

NEW YORK — While many of his peers in the Penguins prospect pool have been making an NHL impact this season, Derrick Pouliot has been largely biding his time.

One possible reason for that might have nothing to do with Pouliot's play in particular.

Hockey's conventional wisdom says young defensemen take longer to develop than young forwards, and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan subscribes to that theory.

“I think playing defense in this league is the hardest position to play,” Sullivan said. “You're the last line of defense before your goalie, and you have to make a lot of reads and decisions based on what happens in front of you.”

After sitting out the previous 10 games as a healthy scratch, the 22-year-old Pouliot was back in the lineup against the Rangers on Sunday while Brian Dumoulin recovers from an upper-body injury suffered when he was hit high by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader on Saturday.

Sullivan offered no updates on Dumoulin's condition.

He did, however, speak in glowing terms about Pouliot, who has been the Penguins' top defenseman when it comes to driving puck possession in a limited sample of 19 games this season.

“Derrick has played a number of games for us and has played really solid hockey,” Sullivan said. “He's a good puck mover. He has good mobility. Helps us get out of our end zone. He can help us on the power play. We believe he can help us win here.”

Sullivan said much of Pouliot's recent 10-game absence from the lineup was due to a reluctance to change personnel in the middle of a winning streak.

“We went through a stretch of pretty good hockey where everybody was playing pretty well, so we didn't feel as though the lineup needed to be changed,” Sullivan said. “Having said that, Derrick has worked extremely hard in practice. He's got a great attitude. We've got a lot of confidence in him.”

Top line intact

Chris Kunitz was a game-time decision Sunday after taking a shot to the head from Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk the day before. He took warmups without incident and was in his customary spot on the left side of the top line with Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist when the puck dropped.

Goalie workload

Marc-Andre Fleury was playing his third game in four days Sunday, which is perhaps the most grueling workload a goalie can face in the modern NHL.

Traditionally, it's a situation he has handled well.

Before Sunday, Fleury was 19-8-7 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .917 save percentage when playing for the third time in four days. Those stats are a little better than his overall career numbers (2.56, .912).

“We're well aware of how many games he's played,” Sullivan said. “We've had this discussion at length. We rely a lot on Mike Bales, our goalie coach. We trust Mike a lot as far as advising us the right way here. Marc's our No. 1 guy. This is a critical time of year.

“(Saturday's game was) an afternoon game. There's more time between games. Marc feels fresh. We've managed his games so that we can try to keep him at his best.”

One less ironman

With Dumoulin out, only three Penguins players have appeared in all 75 games this season: Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and Matt Cullen.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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