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Penguins notebook: Defense pairs being used more evenly

| Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, 3:09 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Penguins' Kris Letang reacts after Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier stopped his shot in a shoot-out to record the win Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, at Consol Energy Center.

If the Penguins played the Chicago Blackhawks under coach Mike Johnston, Ben Lovejoy and defense partner Brian Dumoulin would have been matched up with Patrick Kane pretty much every time the NHL's leading scorer stepped over the boards.

Under coach Mike Sullivan, Lovejoy said he has noticed the team's defense pairs being used more evenly.

“I think we've done more rolling six D-men, in my opinion,” he said. “In an ideal world, you're going out every third shift, and everybody's into it. I think you're at your best when Kris Letang is playing 23, 24 minutes rather than 28, 29. That means the second and third pairings are just as involved in the game. I think that's a big confidence boost for all six guys, and that brings success.”

Sullivan said he is not opposed to the idea of using a shutdown line or defense pairing against one particular opponent. He's just not going to employ that strategy every night.

“I think it depends on your personnel, whether or not you think you have a checking line or whether you want to go power against power,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes it might not necessarily be a match. It might be something you're trying to avoid.

“We've matched in certain games. We've been more conscious of it in certain games than others. Certainly we do that more consistently with our defense pairs, but that's something that we game plan for game to game.”

No changes

With David Perron joining Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the first line and Matt Cullen seemingly finding a home on the left side of the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, Sullivan didn't shuffle his lineup during Monday's practice.

He was happy about that.

“We have right now what we think is a consistent group,” he said. “We'll take that as it comes, but certainly the last couple games, we've been pleased with the effort as a group. That's why the lineup didn't change.”

Letang honored

After putting together back-to-back three-point games for just the second time in his career, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was named the NHL's third star of the week.

Letang had two goals and an assist in a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on New Year's Eve and three assists in a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

“That's something we talked about, trying to stick a couple of wins together and making sure we played the right way,” Letang said. “Not only the results but the process of playing the right way and making a statement.”

Letang's first set of back-to-back three-point performances came Feb. 11-12, 2012.

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick went 4-0 last week and was named first star. Veteran Arizona Coyotes winger Shane Doan had five goals in three games to earn second-star honors.

Whitehall native John Gibson also picked up an NHL award. The Anaheim Ducks goalie was named rookie of the month.

Home and home

When the Penguins face Chicago on Tuesday and Wednesday, it will be the only time they face the same opponent on back-to-back days in different cities this season.

Last season, they played two true home-and-homes, both in November.

They lost twice to the Islanders and split a pair with the Carolina Hurricanes.

“They create some emotion,” Sullivan said. “It turns into a bit of rivalry, even if it's a short-term thing.”

Jonathan Bombulie i s a Tribune-Review staff writ er. Re ach him at jbombulie@tribw eb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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