Shutting down arguably the fastest and most talented line in the National Hockey League.
But that’s exactly what the Penguins coaching staff asked Ben Lovejoy and Brian Dumoulin to do in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
Just the names and pedigree alone are enough to make a defenseman tremble.
“It’s incredibly stressful,” Lovejoy admitted. “They’re going to make you uncomfortable with their speed.”
That speed was coming from the trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. All three were taken within the first three selections of their respective draft classes. With their speed, vision and playmaking ability it’s easy to understand why.
“That was the best line we’ve faced this season,” Lovejoy said. “They could do it all. They have a ton of speed, could make plays, all three of them had the puck on a string. They were very good. They have chemistry. They made our job incredibly difficult.”
Difficult or not, the Pens defensive duo were successful.
At 5-on-5, the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Duchene line produced zero points while being shadowed by Lovejoy and Dumoulin at every turn (in fairness they weren’t completely shutout as Duchene scored twice, once on a power play and once with an extra attacker).
“It’s fun being able to play against those guys. It’s challenging,” Dumoulin said. “It makes us better if you’re going against a line like that.”
Lovejoy and Dumoulin have played together all season and have been Pittsburgh’s best and most consistent defensive pair.
“They’re a pair that’s really comfortable together,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “They’re both very good defensive defensemen. They don’t overplay anything. They make sure they’re always in prime position defensively. They’re always in good defensive side position. They handle the rush well as far as reading it.”
Thursday night wasn’t the first time that the coaching staff has shouldered the pair with going head-to-head against opposing team’s best players. Another memorable game was when they shutdown Alex Ovechkin in a 3-1 win in Washington on Oct. 28.
Being counted on as the team’s top shutdown defensive pair is obviously something Lovejoy and Dumoulin take pride in.
“Off and on it’s been my job throughout my career,” Lovejoy said. “It’s something I absolutely take pride in.”
The duo have different body types and different styles, but they do have a few things in common. They’re both from the New England area (Dumoulin from Maine, Lovejoy from Connecticut). And they have the same focus.
“I feel like I’ve developed a great chemistry with Brian Dumoulin because he has the same attitude,” Lovejoy said. “Often times you see young, high-profile defensemen come up and feel their self worth is tethered to how many points they put up. He’s come in and not only done a great job playing against those top lines, but has the attitude and mindset that he’s out there to play defense.”
Dumoulin has deceptive speed for a big guy (6-foot-4, 207 pounds), and has shown flashes of offensive brilliance in college. And even though he has shown a knack for joining the rush, his success in the NHL has come at the other end of the ice.
“I always want to focus on defense first and that’s my main priority,” Dumoulin said. “For me it’s focusing on playing solid defense and getting the puck out and to our forwards.”
It’s possible that the chemistry between Lovejoy and Dumoulin can be traced through bloodlines. After all, Dumoulin was a defensive partner of Lovejoy’s younger brother, Nick Lovejoy, for four years with the Seacoast Spartans.
“He has a lot of chemistry with the Lovejoy family,” Ben said.
Or maybe there is just something in the water in New England. Whatever the case may be, you can expect to see Lovejoy and Dumoulin picking up the task of being a shutdown pair.
And they’ve shown that they’re up to the task.