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.

Not at 32. Not when playing on the same team as Sidney Crosby

and Evgeni Malkin.

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.”