Penguins playoff thoughts: Dumoulin shining, Sullivan and Murray too
On a team full of stars, Brian Dumoulin doesn’t stand out. Dumoulin is a smooth skater and very fluid player and defender, however his puck-handling skills even compared to his defensemen peers are average at best. He doesn’t have a tremendous shot from the blueline, nor often look to shoot it, as 7 goals in 243 career regular season games will speak to.
But, to be fair, five of them have come this year in Dumoulin’s third full season as an NHL player, which might be a bit forgotten. Given all the hockey he’s played since the beginning of the 2015-16 season (281 games, reg season plus playoffs) it seems like he has just been around for a long, long time at this point as a steady first pair defender who can help keep the puck out of his own zone and play a quiet role as the stars make magic while he hangs in the back.
That hasn’t been the case in these playoffs, Dumoulin has been more aggressive offensively. This is important because as a member of the 1st pair, Dumo is often paired with Sidney Crosby on the first line. No one in the NHL passes to his defensemen as much as Crosby does. This gives Dumoulin a lot of opportunities. The goal last night is a beautiful example.
Crosby burns past Claude Giroux on the faceoff (which let’s all take a moment to laugh at) and Dumoulin recognizes Giroux is all out of sorts and has opened up a huge area in the slot. This kind of heady, instinctive play for Dumoulin to jump into is a great sign he’s at the top of his game. He goes to the right place and you know #87 is going to get him the puck which he does. Then all he has to do is throw a good shot on net, which luckily gets by Brian Elliott.
Dumoulin only had 11 points (3g+8a) in the combined 49 playoff games from 2016 and 2017. He’s already got 4 (1g+3a) in just the 3 games against Philly. A bunch of Dumoulin’s assists these days are because he recognizes Crosby is down low and just flings the puck in his general direction, like this.
That again is great. If you see Sid, just try to get him the puck. He will make the magic, but hockey is a team sport and he can’t put a crazy deflection on a puck without the point shot to send the puck towards the goal. Dumoulin is seeing that and he is doing his part.
“He’s a real valuable player for us,” Sullivan said of Dumoulin after Game 3. “A real important player for us. We rely on him in so many situations. He’s a very good defending defenseman. When he can help us with the offense it’s a big bonus for us.”
We’ll see how much longer the bonus continues, but here’s betting a smart player will be able to keep going to the well to help Crosby, which will help the team.
This is the 28th playoff series of the Crosby/Malkin era of the Penguins (returning to the playoffs in 2007). Pittsburgh is no stranger to being up 2-1 after the first three games of a series, as they have been in such a situation now 15 of those 28 series.
Record when up 2 games to 1 to start a series? 11-3. Olden day wins include: 2009 vs. PHI, 2010 and 2013 vs. OTT, 2013 vs. NYI and 2014 vs. CBJ. The series losses are 2010 vs. MTL, 2011 vs. TB and 2014 vs. NYR. That makes a 5-3 series record when up 2-games-to-1 after three games of a series in the Dan Bylsma days.
In the Mike Sullivan era it’s 6-0, with now the 7th series in progress. Then again, any stat right now for Sullivan as a Pens playoff coach is “something and 0”, being as he’s never lost. His series wins while up 2-1 have come over: 2016 vs. NYR, WSH, TB and SJ, 2017 vs WSH and NSH. In the nine series Sully’s been behind the bench, only once (OTT 2017) have the Pens been behind in a series after the first 3 games.
Mentioned this in the recap but Bob Grove has the detailed stat-line, naturally
Murray in his next start after a playoff loss: 9-1, 1.52, .939. Outstanding.
— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) April 15, 2018
That’s a good way to never lose a playoff series when you can bounce back like Matt Murray. Probably no coincidence that in the two Pittsburgh wins this series, Murray’s been the game’s best player in the first period, followed later by an offensive explosion that leaves Philly in the dust.
This is all a team like the Pens need- their goalie has to bail them out early but he will be rewarded by big time goal support more often than not if he can hold them in the game long enough.
“That’s my job as a goalie,” Murray said. “Stop the puck and keep the puck out of the net. That’s what I try to do.”
The above made me laugh and think of a quote from a piece of cinematic beauty that many have called the greatest film of our lifetime. Sylvester Stallone’s “Over the Top”.
“I drive truck, break arms, and arm wrestle. It’s what I love to do, it’s what I do best. Being number one is everything. There is no second place. Second sucks.”
As we also mentioned yesterday in the recap, the Pens are taking advantage of the extra break by leaving Philly as soon as possible (smart call). They flew back to Pittsburgh last night. Both the Pens and Flyers are off from practice today. The Pens practice on Tuesday and then fly back.
If this was a more standard schedule, we may have expected Game 4 to be Tuesday night. In that case, the Pens players would have been away from home and their families for four straight days and stayed in Philly from last Saturday through Game 4 on Tuesday. As it stands now, they get to sleep in their own beds an extra two nights.
Maybe that makes a difference, maybe not, but personally it’s got to be nice for those involved to have this extra day break right now. Game 4 is Wednesday night.