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Dumoulin's simple style fits with Daley on Penguins' defense

| Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, 9:03 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Brian Dumoulin is second among Penguins defensemen in even-strength minutes, assists and plus-minus rating.

A Maine native who embraced defense at an early age and continued his hockey career at Boston College, Brian Dumoulin found the love and admiration for legendary Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque almost inescapable prior to the start of his professional career.

Dumoulin certainly appreciated the style and success of Bourque, a perennial contender for the Norris Trophy as one of the league's top all-around defenseman, but his heart pulled him in a different direction.

“It's funny — I actually liked Joe Sakic growing up, who was a goal-scoring forward,” Dumoulin said. “Kind of the complete opposite of me.”

More than halfway through his first full NHL season, Dumoulin fits the description of shut-down defenseman as well as anyone on the Penguins' roster. He usually jumps over the boards when opponents send their first or second line on the ice. And after spending the entire first half of the season beside Ben Lovejoy as part of the Penguins' no-frills defensive pair, he's determining how to mesh with a more aggressive partner in Trevor Daley.

“He keeps it simple when he has to, but he's very creative and joins the rush, so it's been fun playing with him,” Dumoulin said of Daley. “I try to play the same way I did with Ben. … I'd say (my style) is simple. I make the play when it's there. If it's not, just keep the puck moving. Keep it going north.”

Coach Mike Sullivan broke up the Dumoulin-Lovejoy pairing Jan. 23. He continued to put Dumoulin with Daley and Ben Lovejoy with Derrick Pouliot in the two games that followed. His explanation for the changes were cryptic, as he insisted defensive pairings become fluid concepts over the course of a game.

“I think the most important thing is that we put our defensemen in a position where they can play to their strengths and be successful,” Sullivan said.

A sample size of three games only hints at how Dumoulin might operate with Daley, but the early returns spell trouble for opposing offenses.

With Dumoulin and Daley together on the ice, the Penguins have allowed 43.60 shot attempts per 60 minutes of five-on-five play and averaged 54.50 shot attempts, according to Puckalytics.com.

When Dumoulin and Lovejoy skated together in five-on-five scenarios — more than 618 minutes — the Penguins averaged 49.26 shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes, and their shot attempt rate was 56.93.

“I think that both of us were out there to play defense first,” Lovejoy said. “I think that our goal was to nullify the other team, to not give up scoring chances, not give up goals. ... And I think we did a very good job of that.”

Partnered with Pouliot, Lovejoy's possession numbers remain favorable.

“I've played with a number of very high-end, skilled young defensemen throughout my career,” Lovejoy said, “and my job is to help them feel comfortable. If I can make Derrick's job easier, make that transition easier, it's going to be good for the entire team. You can really see him coming along.”

Dumoulin, meanwhile, refuses to stray from what worked in the season's first few months, even if skating alongside Daley presents new opportunities on offense. Few defensemen in the league limit opponents' scoring chances better than Dumoulin, according to war-on-ice.com, and the 24-year-old resists the urge to find out whether a little Ray Bourque-style skill is within him.

“Ever since he's here, I've always liked having him in front of me,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “He doesn't make many mistakes out there. He joins the offense. He doesn't get beat defensively.

“His consistency — at a young age, it's not easy. He's doing very good at it. … Every night, you know what you're getting.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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