Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ailing Defense Corps Benefits from Off-the-Radar Signings

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ailing Defense Corps Benefits from Off-the-Radar Signings

Article excerpt

While the biggest story of the Penguins' past offseason might have been just how little the defending Stanley Cup champions had to do, two under-the-radar signings have paid off this week.

Cameron Gaunce and Chad Ruhwedel have served as the third defense pairing for the past three games as Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin recover from injuries, and both drew praise from coach Mike Sullivan after the Penguins' 5-1 win Sunday against Boston.

Gaunce is the more recent addition, earning his first call-up last week after playing 39 games for AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. His ice time has increased in each of the three games he has played. He has brought an element of physicality to a corps of defensemen that typically tilts towards smaller puck-movers.

"He's strong on pucks, he doesn't get pushed around," Sullivan said. "I think he helps us in that area of the game. I think he makes good decisions with the puck, he keeps the game simple, he sees the ice fairly well - he's made some really nice outlet passes for us."

The defensive role suits Gaunce just fine, too. He took on more offensive responsibilities last year with the AHL Portland Pirates, but said his game is more suited to the style he played for the Texas Stars in 2014-15, when he had half as many points but nearly twice as many penalty minutes.

"Because of the team we had in Portland, I was more playing more of a power-play role, whereas this year I'm back to playing the way I've been playing the last couple of years," Gaunce said last week. "It's more of a defensive-oriented, more specifically in roles of penalty kill or late in games, protecting a lead, stuff of that nature."

That was certainly true Sunday against Boston, when Gaunce had the highest percentage of defensive-zone starts among Penguins defensemen.

Gaunce's style has paired well with Ruhwedel, who has seen a bit more NHL time than Gaunce this season - the game Sunday against Boston was his ninth with the Penguins this season.

Ruhwedel also has also seen his responsibilities increase over the past week as the Penguins wait for Dumoulin and Letang to return. …

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