In his first game back since suffering ACL and MCL tears on Dec. 23, 2013 at Ottawa, the Penguins winger scored a goal and added three assists in Pittsburgh’s 6-4 win over Anaheim in their regular-season/home opener on Thursday night.
Per Elias, Dupuis is the first Penguins player with four points in a season opener since Ron Francis (2G-2A) and Mario Lemieux (0G-4A) in 1995.
“It was a long time coming, this one,” Dupuis said. “There’s games like that where everything is rolling and that seemed to be one of those.”
He called the night “emotional,” adding, “You guys saw my reaction (after the goal). It was a great feeling.”
Dupuis certainly didn’t look like a guy who hadn’t played an actual game in over nine months. Not only was he flying out there with his trademark speed – which doesn’t look to be affected by his injury, though he said he would like to have a little more explosiveness – but his timing and positioning looked dead on.
For example, on Brandon Sutter’s shorthanded goal, Dupuis fished the puck off the boards and waited for the center to drive to the net before placing a soft, short pass perfectly on his blade. On Dupuis’ own goal, as he watched the play develop on the other side of the ice, he cut straight to the crease – where he tapped a feed from Olli Maatta right into the gaping net.
“He doesn’t look too sharp right now,” joked captain Sidney Crosby. “But no, I think you’re just really happy to see him do well. It’s been a long time and you know how hard he’s worked to get back to feeling and looking the way he does. But also, to start on time, it’s not easy to come back from an injury and be playing Game 1 of the season. Really happy to see him do well and he’s worked hard for it.”
Dupuis credited being able to play in the Pens’ final two exhibition games for helping him feel ready for the challenge he faced tonight against a loaded Anaheim team.
“For me, those first two games of preseason were huge,” Dupuis said. “Being part of the whole week of preparation for Game 1 was big. I knew what to expect, knew how hard it was going to be. Obviously the level went up a couple notches here for the first game, but it felt great.”
Dupuis matched his single-game career high set over 10 years ago with four assists on March 25, 2004 against Chicago, when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. We asked Dupuis after the game if he knew how long it had been since he notched that many points.
“I know you’ll remind me,” he laughed. “It’s definitely been a while, but this one, just coming back, first game, it’s pretty big.”