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Next man up?

December 2, 2019, 8:44 AM ET [69 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Bad news over the weekend as the Penguins will be losing yet another important player for an extended period of time. It is Brian Dumoulin’s turn to miss a chunk of the season. He suffered lacerations to his ankle and will be out a minimum of eight weeks.

Every team in the league has to deal with their share of injuries. However, I think it has gotten to the point of absurdity again for the Penguins. It reminds me of the later Bylsma years when the team was consistently among the most injured in the league.

Not only are there a lot of players missing time this year, the quality of these players is problematic as well. Not all injuries are created equal. Coaches and management types love to use the phrase “next man up”, but it’s just an empty motivational rallying cry. There is no “next man up” for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. In reality there isn’t one for Brian Dumoulin either. Not many teams have depth to cover the injuries of their mid-tier players. Definitely not when the injury totals are already piling up.

Losing Dumoulin is losing a player who you plug and play with Kris Letang and forget about. I mean that in the best way. You don’t have to worry about him. He’s a great complementary player and can log a ton of minutes. With Letang he creates one of the best pairings in the league the past few years. Dumoulin’s ability to hoard minutes and play well allows the other two left handed defensemen to get bumped into more manageable roles. Without him the deployment changes dramatically and rarely for the better. Any perceived gains by Jack Johnson (real or imaginary) were changes in his deployment. He was no longer asked to be a top four defender. He is playing the fewest minutes of his career in 2019-20. He was slotted with the very capable John Marino when the team was healthy in a third pairing role. That is going bye bye. It is likely we welcome back Jack Johnson top four defender and we have a 14 year track record of what it looks like.

The team is going to not only have to figure out a way to compete with the limited roster, but hope the goaltending picks up. Matt Murray is in a slump. Tristan Jarry has been great, but his sample is small and relying on him has its own set of risks. If things don’t go well we may see our first glimpse of Casey DeSmith before Crosby returns. DeSmith is currently a .922 goalie in the AHL which is solid. The Penguins need to be open to all avenues in order to get quality goaltending. It will be tougher to outplay teams with the injury issues. They can’t be throwing away standings points because they can’t get a save. The Penguins played well against the Blues. Their reward was a 5-2 loss because it was Matt Murray’s sixth consecutive start .905 or worse.

The Penguins are currently holding down the second wild card spot with 32 standings points. I get nervous because one of the teams behind them is the Tampa Bay Lightning with 27 points. The big difference is Tampa has only played in 24 games which is three fewer than the Penguins. The next month is huge for the Penguins. Treading water is probably good enough. It isn’t a given it will happen.

Thanks for reading!
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