PITTSBURGH -- Hockey players commonly are creatures of habit. They like taking their game-day nap at the same time, eating the same pregame meal, going through the same locker-room ritual, relying on the same type of stick, glove or helmet.
Once they develop a signature shot or move, they frequently stay loyal to it for an entire career, save for a tweak here or a wrinkle there. It's a why-mess-with-success mentality, and adhering to a regimen can result in a long, productive career -- as long as a player doesn't get too locked into his ways.
Then there's Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis, who didn't hesitate to reinvent his game in his early 30s, or at the very time when many players are peaking -- or are peeking from the outside looking in, wondering where their careers went.
Dupuis was viewed as a strong penalty killer and complementary scorer, but not a top-line player when he arrived in Pittsburgh in the Marian Hossa trade late in the 2007-08 season. He found a niche with one of the NHL's most talented teams, totaling 12 goals and 16 assists during the Stanley Cup-winning season in 2008-09, but he failed to get a point in 16 playoff games and sometimes was a healthy scratch by coach Dan Bylsma.
Going to training camp a few months later, his first since Bylsma took over in February 2009, Dupuis -- at age 30 -- knew he was at a critical stage of his career. He was convinced he could play a bigger role, even given the Penguins' wealth of scoring talent, but he also understood it would require him to change his game.
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No longer could he play Pascal Dupuis' game. He needed to play Bylsma's game.
It's worked, too. So well that Dupuis scored his career-high 25th goal Saturday -- on his 33rd birthday, coincidentally -- to complete a 59-point season that easily topped his previous career high of 48 points. And when the Penguins open their intrastate Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Wednesday against the rival Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), Dupuis won't be on the scratch list but will be on Sidney Crosby's wing.
Dupuis enters the postseason with a 17-game point-scoring streak, the longest in the NHL this season and the Penguins' second-longest since Mario Lemieux's prime. Even Bylsma said, "I don't know if you expected to see his name there."
Let's let Bylsma describe how Dupuis essentially reinvented himself:
"He's moved himself into the areas offensively where he can be real effective with his speed and skill. I think years back, you saw Pascal come down the wing, take the slapper and try for high glove a lot and that was his signature moment offensively. [Now] he's on the inside, he goes to the net, he uses his speed, he's aggressive on the forecheck, he runs pucks down. He goes to the net and a lot of his points and a lot of what he does offensively is getting the inside."
Such a change is the equivalent of an outside shooter in basketball transforming himself into an inside scorer who picks up his points from the lane rather than from behind the three-point line.
Understandably, it wasn't an easy transformation for Dupuis to make.
"After the Cup year I had a lot to prove," Dupuis said Monday. "I came back and I felt like I was in good shape, but I didn't know where my spot was going to be in that lineup. I had to work hard to open some eyes and show what I can bring. Players adjust to a coach and a staff to a style of game they want to see, and I think right now I fit pretty good."
Dupuis did so almost immediately, even as he adjusted to playing down low. He had 18 goals in 2009-10 -- at the time a career-high -- plus two more in the playoffs.
Dupuis followed with 17 goals last season, earning himself a $3 million, two-year contract, then easily topped anything he had done previously in his career this season. He was fourth on the team in scoring despite picking up only one power-play point all season. He also had a team-high eight game-winning goals. In fact, he was the only player in the League to score at least 20 goals without scoring at least one on the power play.
To Dupuis, making the adjustment wasn't optional, but mandatory. Now, he's just as comfortable on the forecheck as he is the backcheck, or in switching from Jordan Staal's shut-down line to Crosby's push-the-pace line.
"We need to go hard to the net, we need to bring pucks to the net," Dupuis said. "It's what we do here. We need to go for second and third opportunities. That's where you need to score goals now because games are so tight, goalies are so good, you're not going to score on long shots anymore. The odd shots may go in, but at the same time, it's where you need to create stuff."
And it's where he'll be hoping to create it starting Wednesday alongside Crosby, arguably the most creative playmaker in hockey. No longer is he relegated to a fourth-line role or to sitting in the press box.
"I feel good. I feel young. I feel like this year (it) was clicking," Dupuis said. "You play with great teammates, it's always a big plus."