NHL: Penguins' Dupuis has been in the right place at the right time
TORONTO — Pascal Dupuis was in the right place at the right time again.
Against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, Dupuis’ linemate Chris Kunitz created a chance by outmuscling defenseman Korbinian Holzer to get the puck to Sidney Crosby, who found Dupuis with a no-look pass that ended up in the back of the Toronto net.
“I think Duper’s a pretty smart player,” Crosby said. “He goes to the net, so I knew he was going to the net.”
Dupuis was not ready to give Crosby that much credit.
“He hopes I’ll be there,” Dupuis said. “I don’t even know I’ll be there.”
Pittsburgh’s top line of Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis enters today’s home game against the Rangers firing on all cylinders. The line has 38 points during the Penguins’ seven-game winning streak, and Crosby (47) and Kunitz (39) sit No. 1 and No. 2 in the NHL in points, entering Friday.
“This year the pucks are going in,” general manager Ray Shero said.
Pittsburgh (20-8-0), which is tied with Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference, is the highest-scoring team in the league by far, with 3.61 goals per game. Crosby leads the league with 35 assists, and Kunitz is the league leader in plus-minus at plus-23 and is second in goals with 18.
“There’s a comfort level and trust in what we need to do out there,” Crosby said of the line, which has been together since 2010. “We have a pretty clear understanding of what we need to each play in order to be successful, and we’ve been pretty consistent with that.”
During Thursday’s morning skate at Air Canada Centre, however, the Penguins’ top three were, somewhat seriously, bickering over a missed pass during a line rush.
“I’m probably not the most fun guy to play with some times that way, but I have high expectations,” Crosby, 25, said.
“I think I’m probably harder on guys. At the same time, I know we have to produce and we need to find ways to create chances.”
The attention to detail during morning skates shows up in games. Five minutes after the highlight-reel connection between Crosby and Dupuis on Thursday, the line hooked up again as Dupuis snapped in a feed from Kunitz for the game-winner in a 3-1 victory.
Thursday night’s victory belonged to Dupuis. His teammates, including James Neal, took to Twitter using the hashtag “superduper” to honor him.
Being in the right place at the right time has been a theme for Dupuis, a 33-year-old native of Laval, Quebec, who went undrafted out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was considered an afterthought in a trade that sent Marian Hossa from Atlanta to Pittsburgh in exchange for Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen in 2008.
Recalling the trade, Shero chuckled at the notion that Dupuis might have been considered a spare part. He told the Thrashers that the Penguins needed a forward back in the trade.
“They weren’t sure they would be able to re-sign him so to complete the deal he was part of the package there,” Shero said of Dupuis.
In his final year of a two-year, $3 million deal, Dupuis is third on the Penguins in goals with 13. He has had three consecutive seasons of 30-plus points, compiling the finest season of his career in 2011-12 with 25 goals and 34 assists.
“It was one of those good opportunities for me to come to a winning team, a team that aspires to win the Stanley Cup every year,” Dupuis said. “Now I’m on the right side of Sidney Crosby every night. Obviously I would say it was a great move.”
Dupuis can become an unrestricted free agent in July, and Shero has to hope he can get Dupuis signed to a new deal before the forward tests the open market.
“I think he’ll want to stay in Pittsburgh,” said Shero, adding that talks had not yet begun. “We’ll just have to find the right deal that works for both parties if that’s where we get to at the end of the year.”