Bruising forward Mike Rupp has been a key part of the Penguins’ recent success, scoring a critical goal in Monday’s 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, and notching an assist on Evgeni Malkin
’s game-winner in the contest previous to that, a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 21.
“I think it’s just the confidence that the team has shown and the guys I’ve been playing with,” said Rupp, who has earned a plus rating in each of the last two games. “It’s been a team effort moving the puck north and getting on the offense. I’ve been able to benefit from that.”
Rupp was brought to the Penguins to add toughness. A physical, imposing force, Rupp showed some of his bread and butter when he engaged Florida’s Bryan Allen in a true heavyweight bout Monday night.
Allen had laid a hit on Malkin around the Panthers’ net after the whistle had blown. Rupp felt it was his duty to stick up for the Russian superstar.
But Rupp, not usually looked upon as a goal scorer in the NHL, has been able to contribute valuable offensive production in addition to his enforcement duties.
“He’s a guy in the offensive zone that can hold onto the puck,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s a big body. He’s a huge guy. When he’s in the offensive zone and holding onto (the puck), he’s a force.”
It is this ability to hold the puck in the other team’s offensive zone that Rupp feels is a major part of his game.
“I understand my role’s to play a particular way and to spend time in the offensive zone as far as forechecking and keeping the puck down there,” Rupp said. “If we’re getting opportunities off it and we’re scoring, we’re going to keep with it.
“But obviously I still have a job to do as far as playing physical and keeping the puck in the offensive zone.”
Rupp is rocketing toward a career year in his first season as a Penguin. His career-high regular-season goal total is six, which he has achieved twice (2003-04, 2006-07), both times with the New Jersey Devils.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward has already scored five goals in 24 games this season.
Compared with New Jersey, the Penguins play a wide-open system complete with some of the top playmakers in the NHL. Rupp was quick to point this out when asked about his recent goal-scoring success.
“I’ve definitely been the recipient of some pretty nice plays,” Rupp said. “(In Monday’s) game Malkin made the play behind the net. Not many guys can make that play. I pretty much just stood in the blue ice there and tapped it in.
“I’m definitely benefiting from getting out there with players like that. I think that as a team we’re working hard and helping each other out.”
Rupp has been crashing the net, and his large frame can cause havoc for the opposing goaltender.
“His goals and how he’s scored, he’s gotten to the offensive zone,” Bylsma said. “He’s been on different lines. He’s been on the top two lines. As a result, he’s been in and around the net.
“A lot of the goals he’s scored have been in that 10-foot area in the net and a result of offensive zone time. He’s playing to his strengths and he’s getting opportunities. He’s getting results as well. We need that.”
Defenseman Brooks Orpik
stressed the importance of players like Rupp chipping in goals.
“We’ve got contributions from just about everyone in the (locker room),” Orpik said. “That’s something you need if you want to be a successful team.”
Captain Sidney Crosby
echoed Orpiks thoughts.
“It’s huge. You want your role guys to step up and score those big goals for you,” Crosby said. “Rupp’s got that physical presence, too. He’s a tough guy, gets himself in front of the net and creates a lot of space for his line mates. He’s done a great job.”
Rupp will continue to stick to his game and pound away in the offensive zone. He knows good things will come from it.
“I think that our team, when we put the puck behind their D and get on the forecheck we’re spending time in the offensive zone and chances are going to happen from that,” Rupp said. “It’s good to see guys from different depths in the lineup to be able to chip in and contribute.”