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Kyle Dubas’ patience in Penguins is starting to pay off

A month ago, the Pens were at a big inflection point in their season. Kyle Dubas backed Mike Sullivan and his aging core. Since then, the arrow has been pointed up

NHL: JAN 04 Penguins at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s coming up on the one month anniversary from when Kyle Dubas held a press conference on December 11th. At that point, the Penguins were floundering and their season looked at a cross-roads of where it could be heading, and none of the paths were particularly promising. They were 0-2-2 in December, having lost two games in extra time to Philadelphia and then going 0-for-Florida by losing games in Tampa and Sunrise.

Even worse, the Pens only had 25 points through 26 games and an 11-12-3 record that was getting them no where fast. Coach Mike Sullivan’s messaging did not seem to be resonating or working. Was it the end of the road and time to face harsh realities about where the team was?

It wasn’t the time for that from the perspective of the general manager. Kyle Dubas went out a month ago projected optimism and belief in his club, coach and this quote stands out.

“The responsibility falls to me to chart the course for where we’re at and where we’re going,” Dubas said. “We can get going in that direction if we just adhere to the number one rule of holes, which is ‘when you’re in one, stop digging.’”

To stop digging, the Pens are going to need to win some games.

“I’m gonna give the players and coaching staff as much time as possible,”

The job isn’t complete, but the team has responded by justifying Dubas’ stance and outlook. Since that press conference, Pittsburgh is 9-3-1 and been one of the top teams in the NHL. They not only stopped digging in their proverbial self-inflicted hole but have virtually climbed all the way out of it. The Pens have done that by going 4-1-0 within the division over the last month; the team has taken wins over Carolina, Philadelphia and the NY Islanders (twice) and falling by one goal to Washington.

This kind of month was badly needed for the Pens’, their core and their coach. Thanks to it, they’re right back in the thick of the playoff race and positioned well if teams like Washington and Philadelphia fall off from their own hot early season starts and they’re now running neck and neck with an Islanders team that isn’t capable of winning very many games (even if they mitigate that by not losing often in regulation).

Which is to say, it’s been a wild first half for Pittsburgh, but one they’ve found a way to stabilize their season after a poor start. Led by Sidney Crosby and some incredible goaltending from both Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic, it has taken time for parts like Erik Karlsson to fully integrate. Injuries in cascading fashion to first Rickard Rakell and then Bryan Rust zapped team strength. Newcomers Reilly Smith and Ryan Graves have been choppy at best overall in important roles.

Dubas’ prudent path to not fire and trade everyone after a frustrating first 25 games is looking like a wise path as the season nears the half-way point. It’s also allowed new developments to reveal themselves for what direction might most need attention.

The defense has been shaky but the forward group has been bolstered by Drew O’Connor and Valtteri Puustinen fitting into play quality parts on the team. By waiting and letting the season play out, Dubas has allowed the Penguins more time to show what they are, what they aren’t, and where they might best need a boost via external measures. These days, that wishlist probably looks different than it might have even a month ago.

In truth, Dubas might not have had a lot of drastically different options a month ago then to do exactly what he did and let things breathe and hope for the best. The team was struggling but the trade market is jammed and they have no cap space. Sullivan is considered one of the top coaches around, a knee-jerk change of position there was no guarantee to set the Pens up better for the medium to long run.

In a lot of ways, Dubas had cast his lot with the trade to bring over Karlsson and his big contract for the next four years. There’s no path besides trying to compete and make the most out of the Sidney Crosby days once locking into a move in that direction. Flipping away or changing the vision after 25 games would have been a big panic move.

To Dubas’ credit, he didn’t flinch — at least not outwardly. He granted his team more time to right their ship. In the 13 games since that moment, they’ve been putting results together to do just that.