They say that competition brings out the best in athletes. That should bode well for the Penguins down the stretch as 14 forwards battle internally for the 12 spots in the lineup on a given night. General manager Ray Shero said as much last Tuesday following his trading deadline acquisition of left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Early returns have proved Shero prophetic as the Penguins continue to receive contributions up and down the lineup as they have rung up a perfect 4-0 record since returning from the Olympic break. Perhaps nobody has stepped up his game more than versatile winger Pascal Dupuis
Filling in on the top line with Sidney Crosby
and Chris Kunitz
for the third game in a row as Bill Guerin continues to battle back spasms, Dupuis scored his third goal in four contests as the Penguins once again overcame an early deficit to pick up a 2-1 victory.
“I am pretty happy with the way things are going right now, knock on wood,” Dupuis said. “I just want to keep it going. … We all talked about the last 20 games of the season being big for us creating a team identity and showing both other team’s and ourselves how good we can be. As a team we have done it.”
With the Penguins trailing 1-0 midway through the second period, Dupuis, Crosby and Mike Rupp went to work behind the goal line. Rupp cycled the puck to Dupuis behind the cage. Dupuis then worked a give-and-go with Crosby before making a move to the far post where he tried to stuff a shot on a prone Tim Thomas, who made the save. Dupuis and Rupp continued to jam away until Dupuis’ final whack nudged the puck just over the goal line.
“I think it was a good effort down there by Sid,” Dupuis said. “I gave him the puck and he made a nice play to attract a couple guys to him and then get it back to me behind the net. I just tried to jam it. … It was a big goal for our team.”
Dupuis has picked up a bunch of big goals since a recent talk he had with assistant coach Tony Granato. A pretty fair goal scorer himself during his days with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, Granato instructed Dupuis, who has one of the hardest shots on the team, to get more pucks on net.
“I think part of his game is being unselfish, which is not a bad thing, but for us to be more productive we want him to use his shot,” Granato said. “He has a good shot and he gets into scoring areas because he skates so well. He deserves the goals he is getting because he has worked his rear end off.”
“He pulled me aside and talked to me about shooting the puck more and having that shooter’s mentality and driving the net hard,” Dupuis said. “At this time of year you drive the net hard and those are the kind of goals you are going to get.”
Dupuis certainly heeded Granato’s advice, as he has fired 19 shots (4.85 avg.) over his past four games. Ironically, the only night during his recent hot stretch when Dupuis did not find the back of the net was against the Rangers on Thursday, a night when he established a career high with 10 shots on goal.
With his 16th goal of the season on Sunday, Dupuis is now four goals away from tying his career high of 20, which he established with the Minnesota Wild back in 2002-03. Only Guerin with 17 goals has more among Penguins wingers.
“He has been very consistent all year – maybe as consistent as anyone on our team,” Granato said. “To see the way he has played since the break by adding a few things such as being physical, going to the net for rebounds and battling for pucks along the boards, he has been great.”
To his credit, Dupuis says at this time of the year it is about more than just numbers. Yes, he would love to take a run at another 20-goal season, but he is also smart enough to realize that sometimes goals come in bunches, so it’s more important to continue playing the right way and letting the offensive numbers take care of themselves.
“It has nothing to do with how many goals I get as long as the team keeps winning,” Dupuis said. “Pucks are going in for me right now and I am doing the little things that you need to do to score goals. They are going in right now so I will take it.”
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