On the Penguins: In the NHL, sometimes it's one night only


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Yeah, the Penguins are spoiled.

So is almost every other team in the Eastern Conference.

Saturday night, the Penguins wrapped up a three-game swing through Western Canada, one of their rare forays outside the Eastern time zone this winter.

That's quite a jaunt for a group whose road trips generally consist of an hour-long flight to someplace like Raleigh, N.C., or Boston or Montreal; for most clubs in the West, a trip like that is as good as it gets, and happens only a few times each season.

Perhaps because the Penguins' travel usually isn't terribly demanding -- not only are the flights fairly short, but they're made on planes far more comfortable and spacious than those used by commercial travelers -- at least some guys don't mind an occasional trip across the continent.

"I love going everywhere," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think it's one of the fun things about the job, getting to go to different cities."

He was quick to add that having every club -- especially one whose lineup is liberally laced with big-name talents as that of the Penguins -- play at least once per season in each of the other 29 cities helps to spur interest in the game.

"That was something [the NHL Players' Association] pushed for during the CBA [negotiations], to go everywhere once a year, based on [appealing to] the fans," Orpik said.

"If you have Sid[ney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin] on the same team, two of the best guys in the league, if you're a fan, you want to see all those guys at least once a year, as much as possible."

Brian Dumoulin is back in Wilkes-Barre, back where there was every reason to believe he would spend the entire 2013-14 season, honing his game for an eventual run at full-time work in the NHL.

That, of course, was before the Penguins began to lose defensemen to significant injuries every 20 minutes or so, forcing them to reach deep very deep -- into the roster of their American Hockey League affiliate for replacement parts.

When they had reached far enough, often enough, they grabbed Dumoulin.

And, just like those summoned before and after him, he responded with a quality performance.

There's nothing spectacular about his game in any zone -- he had one assist while averaging over 19 minutes of ice time in six games -- but he is reliable and responsible, not prone to costly or unforced errors.

Which is precisely what management was expecting from him after a strong showing for the Baby Penguins during the Calder Cup playoffs last spring.

"In the playoffs, he was lights-out," said Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' assistant to the general manager. "He's been consistent with his job. He knows what he is."

Dumoulin was acquired from Carolina in the 2012 Jordan Staal trade and believes the defensive side of his game have gotten significantly better since he left Boston College that year.

"I felt like, coming in, I needed to get better at my one-on-one defensive-zone skills," he said. "Looking back at college, that wasn't the main focus for me.

"I didn't really understand it until I got with [Wilkes-Barre coach John Hynes] and [assistant Alain Nasreddine] and they really taught me how to play one-on-one defense and make sure I do my job, not try to do somebody else's."

Dumoulin showed enough during his brief stint with the Penguins to suggest that he's not the least bit out of place at this level, and that he probably is capable of taking a regular shift with an NHL club whose blue line isn't so heavily stocked with quality personnel.

The reality, though, is that not only do the Penguins have a surplus of accomplished defensemen on the NHL payroll, but outstanding prospects such as Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington in the developmental pipeline.

While knowing that he faces that kind of competition keeps Dumoulin motivated to upgrade his game, the Penguins' wealth of exceptional current and future defensemen almost certainly will make his road to steady work in the NHL longer than it would have been if he were in another organization.

"It obviously makes you better, because you have to push yourself each and every day," Dumoulin said. "But there are a lot of good players here, so that makes it more difficult."

Wednesday: vs. Washington

The Penguins will have plenty of time to prepare for this game, and even more to recover from it. They are off three days before facing the Capitals and four days after that.


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