John Marino

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Marino, Dumoulin make instant impact as Penguins snap losing streak

PITTSBURGH — They may not be their biggest stars, but the Pittsburgh Penguins got two of their most important players back on Tuesday night with the returns of defensemen Brian Dumoulin and John Marino.

It is not a coincidence that their presence helped spark one of the Penguins’ best overall games in weeks to help them snap what had been a six-game losing streak with a 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

It did not take them very long to make an impact, either.

Marino opened the scoring for the Penguins with a goal just 48 seconds into the first period.

That was followed by Dumoulin making a smooth play in the offensive zone to set up Conor Sheary less than a minute later to give the Penguins a two-goal lead they would never come close to surrendering.

Bryan Rust also recorded a hat trick in the win, while Evgeni Malkin had four assists.

Sidney Crosby also recorded the 800th assist of his career.

But the big picture news here for the Penguins is what the return of two of their top blue-liners could mean.

Their absence put a significant dent in the lineup (Dumoulin had been sidelined since the end of November, while Marino had missed about a month) the past few weeks. It not only took away two of their best defensive players, but it also put them into a situation where the remaining blue-liners had to take on bigger roles than they’re accustomed to playing. Jack Johnson had to move up to the top pairing alongside Kris Letang, Justin Schultz had to play on the second pairing, and their third-pairing was a revolving door of extra defensemen.

On Tuesday, everything was back to the way they intended it to be: Letang with Dumoulin, Marino with Marcus Petterson, and Schultz and Johnson on the third pairing.

The other underrated part of their presence is what they can do for the offense due to their ability to get the puck out of the defensive zones and feed the Penguins transition game. That element had also been lacking in recent games.

“They’re such good players on both side of the puck,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan of Marino and Dumoulin. “They defend so well, they have puck poise and good breakouts, and they help us create some balance throughout our pairs. It just makes us a better team when they’re in the lineup.”

Marino, one of the league’s top rookies this season, now has six goals and 26 points in 52 games this season thanks to his early tally on Tuesday.

“Honestly just tried to get it to the net,” said Marino when asked about his goal. “I saw [Rust] had a good screen in front and luckily it went in.”

Along with the goal he also broke up a 3-on-1 rush in the second period, nearly scored a second goal later in the period, and was at times a one-man breakout coming out of the defensive zone. The Penguins acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round draft pick over the summer and it has helped completely transform their defense.

Even with their recent slide the Penguins are still in a pretty good spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Their win on Tuesday gives them a seven-point cushion over the non-playoff teams, while they are also four points ahead of the Wild Card teams. They are also just one point back of the Philadelphia Flyers for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division. They still sit four points back of the Capitals for the top spot, which could be difficult to make up, but they do have two head-to-head meetings (both in Pittsburgh) remaining.

“Honestly, every team goes through this,” said Marino of the team’s recent slump. “We happen to be going through right now, but other teams go through it. There’s a lot of veteran players here that know to stay calm. We have the right guys in the room to do what we want. As long as we just stick to our game we will be fine.”

Related: Penguins get two important players back with John Marino, Brian Dumoulin

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Help appears to be on the way for Penguins

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The solution to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ recent struggles is a simple one, and it appears to be on the verge of happening.

That solution: the return of a healthy Brian Dumoulin and John Marino on defense.

After both players were full participants in practice on Monday, coach Mike Sullivan confirmed they will be game-time decisions for the Penguins’ game against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night as they try to snap their current six-game losing streak.

Dumoulin skated next to Kris Letang at practice on Monday, while Marino was next to Marcus Pettersson.

Their pending returns is one of the biggest reasons general manager Jim Rutherford did not address the team’s blue line ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Given the way the team played defensively this season when both were healthy it’s not hard to see why they were willing to be patient.

Getting them back in the lineup not only gives the Penguins two of their top-four defensemen, it also helps get everyone else on defense back to the roles they are best suited for.

The Dumoulin impact

With Dumoulin sidelined the Penguins have been playing Jack Johnson in his spot on the top-pairing next to Letang. It has not only not worked, it has been one of the least productive defense pairings in the league by pretty much every objective measure.

Johnson had been effective earlier this season in a third-pairing role but recently was being asked to play too many minutes in a role he is simply not suited for.

Letang and Dumoulin, on the other hand, has been one of the league’s best defense pairings for the past three years. Since the start of the 2017-18 season there have 160 different defense pairings across the NHL that have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together. The Letang-Dumoulin pairing ranks among the top-25 in that group in shot attempt share, scoring chance share, and is a plus-17 overall in terms of goals. Dumoulin may not be a superstar, but he is a smart, defensively sound player that possesses enough mobility and puck skills to perfectly complement Letang. They simply work together exceptionally well.

Over that same time period, the Letang-Johnson duo ranks among the bottom-20 in the same categories and has been outscored by nine goals.

Do not overlook Marino’s impact

Marino has been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season and has helped completely overhaul the Penguins’ defense.

He has not only been one of the best rookies in the NHL this season, he has been one of the most impactful defensive players in the entire league regardless of position or experience. Of the 517 players to log at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season Marino currently ranks 73rd in total shot attempts against per 60 minutes, 17th in expected goals against, 64th in scoring chances against, and 39th in high-danger chances against. Pretty much the top 10 percent of the league across the board.

It is not a coincidence that the team’s overall defensive performance started to trend in the wrong direction when he was sidelined a few weeks ago. It was also around that same time that they lost forward Zach Aston-Reese, one of their best defensive forwards and a huge part of their shutdown line alongside Brandon Tanev and Teddy Blueger.

Marino’s return allows allows Justin Schultz to slide down to the third pairing alongside Johnson, where they can be sheltered a bit more and not have to be relied on to play more than 20 minutes a night against the other team’s best players.

It is going to make everyone better.

Even with their current losing streak the Penguins are still within striking distance of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division and were 23-6-2 in the games prior to that.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

New-look Penguins play first game since trade deadline on NBCSN

Hockey fans get their first post-trade deadline glance at the new-look Penguins on Wednesday. Then again, it’s also true that later versions of the Penguins will look different from the group that faces the Kings on NBCSN at 10:30 p.m. ET (stream here).

Penguins roll out new trade deadline additions in these lineups — for now

Like many other NHL coaches, Mike Sullivan likes to tinker with his combinations. Injuries forced Sullivan to do so anyway this season, and the Penguins’ trade deadline investments now give him a plethora of options. When/if certain players come back, the variety will only grow.

Let’s go forward line by forward line based on NHL.com’s projected combos for Wednesday, since that’s where Pittsburgh made acquisitions.

Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary

As new-look as the Penguins feel, there seems to be warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the reunion of Crosby and Sheary. Personally, I never understood why Pittsburgh broke them up in the first place. (Especially if the answer is troublingly “to afford bad defenseman Jack Johnson.”)

In a lineup breakdown from The Athletic’s Josh Yohe (sub required), both Crosby and Sheary amusingly described each other as easy to play with. Sullivan’s comments provided a little more substance.

“He brings a speed element,” Sullivan said of Sheary. “He can finish. He’s good in traffic. A lot of attributes that Conor brings to the table are complementary to Sid.”

Sheary can think the game at a reasonable level with Crosby, and the early returns on Zucker indicate the same. (On paper, Zucker seems like a no-brainer fit for Crosby, but in reality not everyone clicks with 87.)

Still, there are a number of different factors that could break these fellows up. What if Jake Guentzel beats the timeline for recovery from his shoulder surgery, at least for the playoffs? Will Penguins eventually want a right-handed shot with Crosby instead of two other lefties?

This seems like a good mix overall, at least to start, though.

Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Business as usual there, basically. Rust and Hornqvist can work with Crosby if needed, so that’s nice.

Patrick MarleauEvan RodriguesDominik Simon

Trade deadline additions make two-thirds of this third line, and the potential is interesting. Simon ranks as the most feasible candidate to move up, possibly with Crosby again. While Marleau ranks as a bigger name, Rodrigues stands out as a fascinating wild card.

People have been noting Rodrigues’ potential as a hidden gem for some time.

(His underlying numbers still look good at Hockey Viz, although things slipped a bit in 2019-20 compared to more robust work in 2017-18 and 2018-19.)

The sheer variety of useful players in the Penguins’ top nine is really something, especially when you realize that Jared McCann could end up being a more regular fit as third-line center. Nick Bjugstad already feels like old news, considering the revolving door of Penguins forwards, yet he’s another interesting player if health eventually permits.

Sam LaffertyTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Then you have what seems to be a pretty strong fourth line from a defensive standpoint. Quite a group.

(Oh yeah, and there’s also Zach Aston-Reese. Healthy scratches could eventually become straight-up awkward if most/everyone actually gets healthy.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Defense and other considerations for Penguins

NHL.com projects Pittsburgh’s Wednesday defensive pairings as such:

Jack Johnson — Kris Letang

Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz

Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Naturally, injuries have been a factor for the Penguins’ defense (and also goalies including Matt Murray). Moving past players who have worked past injuries like Letang and Schultz, Pittsburgh has some significant blueliners on the shelf. It’s possible Brian Dumoulin may return with time to shake off rust before the playoffs, while rookie revelation John Marino is recovery from surgery after a wayward puck broke bones in his cheek.

In other words … the Penguins’ defense could continue to look quite different as things go along, much like their forward groups.

Despite all that turbulence, the Penguins figure to be a formidable opponent, particularly after stocking up with Zucker, Sheary, Marleau, and Rodrigues in recent times. Catch your first look at that new-look group against the Kings on Wednesday on NBCSN.

More: Kings aim to upset Penguins

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Brenden Dillon, San Jose Sharks

NHL Trade Deadline
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(UPDATE: Dillon has been dealt to the Capitals.)

With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on San Jose Sharks defensemen Brenden Dillon.

Player: Brenden Dillon
Current team: San Jose Sharks
Position: Defense
Contract: Unrestricted free agent after this season with a $3.270 million salary cap number.

Why the Sharks might trade him. Because everything has been a mess for the Sharks this season. Everything began with Stanley Cup expectations and has instead resulted in one of the worst teams in the league that has almost no chance of making the playoffs as the trade deadline approaches. General manager Doug Wilson is not going to completely tear things down, but he is definitely going to reset some things and get rid of some potential unrestricted free agents. Dillon is at the top of that list.

Teams that could/should be interested. Florida Panthers, Vegas Golden Knights, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators

What he provides. Do not expect much — if any — offense from him. He has scored more than two goals in a season just three times, and only topped the three-goal mark two times. He is, however, a durable and steady defensive player that has been one of the most reliable defensive players in San Jose — and the entire league — over the past few years.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season there have been 280 defensemen to log at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. Dillon ranks among the top-50 in that group in total shot attempts against per 60 minutes, expected goals against, and scoring chances against.

So while he is not a player that is really going to do much to drive his team’s offense, he does a great job helping to make sure the other team’s offense is not generating much, either.

Carolina and Columbus have immediate needs on defense due to the recent injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Seth Jones. Those teams however might be in the market for more offensively driven players than defensive-minded player. Pittsburgh is in a similar situation with the injuries to John Marino and Brian Dumoulin, but both should be back before the playoffs. At the very least Marino will definitely be. Florida, Vegas, Nashville, and maybe even the Edmonton Oilers would seem to have a need for a player that brings Dillon’s skillset.

Predicted destination. I want to say Vegas makes sense, especially with Peter DeBoer now behind the bench there, but I don’t know that the Sharks and Golden Knights will want to willingly help each other out. Florida has a ton invested in this season and has a playoff berth within reach. They have one of the highest scoring teams in the league and a defense that can not stop anybody even though they have a ton of options and big contracts. He would be a pretty big upgrade. So let’s say the Panthers add another blue liner to the mix for a couple of draft picks in an effort to improve their play in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
• Trade Deadline primer: Tyler Toffoli
• Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
• Trade Deadline Primer: Alec Martinez
• Trade Deadline Primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
• Trade Deadline Primer: Joe Thornton
Trade Deadline Primer: Robin Lehner
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Penguins’ John Marino sidelined with broken cheek

The Pittsburgh Penguins have another significant injury to deal with.

Defenseman John Marino reportedly broke three bones in his cheek on Thursday night in the team’s 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when he was hit in the side of the face by a Steven Stamkos slap shot.

It was initially believed that Marino had escaped significant injury, but further evaluation on Friday revealed the nature of the injury.

The injury news was initially reported Dejan Kovacevic of DKPittsburghsports.

The play happened late in the third period. You can see it here.

No team in the NHL has missed more man games due to injury this season than the Penguins, and it is not just the number of games that have been an issue. It is also the quality of player that has been sidelined. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Patric Hornqvist, Justin Schultz, and Nick Bjugstad have all missed significant time this season. And now they have to add Marino to that list.

At this point there is no timeline for how long he could be out of the lineup.

The Penguins’ current injured list already includes Guentzel, Dumoulin, and Bjugstad.

Make no mistake, this is a costly injury for the Penguins.

Not only has Marino been one of the league’s best rookies this season, he has been one of the most impactful defensive players in the entire league (regardless of position or experience level) and has helped transform the Penguins’ defense into a Stanley Cup contending unit. But with Dumoulin and Marino now out of the lineup, they are going to be missing their two best defensive players on that blue line.

Along with his defensive play, Marino also has five goals and 20 assists offensively. He scored a goal in Thursday’s game before the injury.

The Penguins acquired Marino during the offseason from the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional sixth-round draft pick.

UPDATE 2/10: Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that Marino would have surgery, but did not specify the injury. There is also no timetable for the defenseman’s return.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.