Dupuis quietly thriving for Penguins
Pascal Dupuis knows this isn't supposed to be happening. Guys who have spent more than a decade in the NHL aren't supposed to be reinventing themselves.
Yet here Dupuis is anyway, in the midst of a career year and a hot streak normally reserved for his high-profile teammates.
The veteran forward already has set career highs in goals (23) and points (50) with two weeks remaining in the regular season and his 10-game point streak - which he extended with a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over New Jersey on Sunday - is the longest active streak in the NHL.
Even better? Pittsburgh is 20-1-1 this season when Dupuis scores heading into Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders. Heady territory for a player known mostly for his heavy slapshot and persistent forechecking.
The affable Canadian doesn't think there's any secret to his sudden surge. Yes, he's shooting more than ever, but that's just part of the job description when playing for the NHL's highest scoring team.
''The more you put on the better chance you have to score,'' Dupuis said. ''That's what they ask everybody to do to create opportunities.''
Few players have taken advantage of their chances than Dupuis, perhaps the most adaptable player on the Penguins. He started the season paired with Malkin and Chris Kunitz then moved to a line with Crosby during the superstar's brief return in November.
When Crosby went back on the injured list with concussion-like symptoms, Dupuis joined Jordan Staal and Steve Sullivan, a combination that's proven nearly as effective as the nightly show being put on by Malkin, Neal and Kunitz.
''We have a little bit of everything on that line,'' Dupuis said. ''Jordan can do anything. Steve is really poised, really patient. It seems to be working.''
The trio combined for 15 goals during Pittsburgh's recent 11-game winning streak that thrust the Penguins to within a point of the New York Rangers for the top spot in the East. Crosby's return, however, has let coach Dan Bylsma experiment with his lines like a mad scientist. Dupuis played alongside the Pittsburgh captain and Craig Adams for stretches on Sunday after Sullivan came down with a minor injury.
The shakeup had little impact on Dupuis' effectiveness. He pounced on a rebound in the second period and slipped the puck by Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in the second period to give the Penguins a two-goal lead they would never relinquish. The score was Dupuis' eighth game-winning goal this season, second on the team behind Malkin and tied for fifth in the league.
''That's a career let alone one season,'' Bylsma said. ''He's been outstanding in a lot of different roles for us.''
The Penguins have been relying on that versatility since acquiring Dupuis in a deadline deal from Atlanta in 2008. He blended in almost instantly as the Penguins made it to the Stanley Cup final before falling to Detroit.
His numbers took a tumble when the Penguins won the Cup the following year, but mostly due to lack of opportunity. Playing time on a roster loaded with All-Stars was limited though Bylsma praised Dupuis' selflessness for not letting his frustration get the best of him.
Dupuis rebounded each of the next two seasons but again had issues in the postseason. He scored just once in last year's first-round loss to Tampa Bay as the Penguins wore down with Crosby and Malkin both out of the lineup with injuries.
The roster has been more stable this year, with the electric Malkin putting together an MVP-worthy performance. Dupuis is part of a second wave of scorers - Kunitz and Staal also recorded their 23rd goals against the Devils and Matt Cooke has a career-high 19 - that make it difficult for opponents to key in on one line.
It's a far cry from earlier in his career when Dupuis spent years grinding away on bad teams in Minnesota and Atlanta. Those days are long gone in Pittsburgh, and Dupuis has turned himself into a scoring threat if defenders focus on his more high-profile teammates.
Don't think opposing goaltenders haven't noticed.
''He hasn't played on the fourth line all year,'' Brodeur said. ''Maybe some years he was bouncing up everywhere and playing penalty kill, more defensive role. Now these guys are flying and skating really fast and they're feeding off this great season and he's a part of it.''
It's a season the Penguins hope to extend until June thanks in part to an old forward enjoying a surprising renaissance.
''He's turned himself into a leader in how we play,'' Bylsma said. ''It's rewarding to see him get those opportunities.''