The Penguins lineup is riddled with injuries. Pittsburgh’s top-four defensemen are out. Twenty different forwards have suited up in games. Nine Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have appeared for Pittsburgh.
And despite injuries piling up on what seems like a nightly basis, there has been one constant.
The Penguins’ top forward line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis has been producing at a rapid pace, one that would make it seem like there is no added pressure without the likes of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang in the lineup for extended periods of time.
“It is great to help your team win,” Dupuis said. “At the same time, the pressure is there every night to produce. You play with Sidney Crosby on a line, people are expecting you to get some points and do well. I don’t think with the guys we have out there that there is added pressure. Guys have stepped in and have played great for us. They have really helped.”
After arriving back in Pittsburgh late last night after a 4-3 shootout victory over the New York Rangers, some questioned how this group of Penguins would compete and skate with a fresh Minnesota team. Kunitz silenced any talk of that notion being true, scoring the game’s first goal just 49 seconds into the first period.
“Sometimes you just get right back at it,” Dupuis added. “Even though we got in late from New York last night, we felt pretty great at the start. I don’t know. Just one of those nights that we took it to them.”
For the man down the middle and his wingmen, the night was a continuation of a hot streak that has these Penguins flying high atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The trio has scored nine of the Penguins’ 20 goals since Dec. 9, when Pittsburgh’s current six-game winning streak began in a home win versus Columbus. Over their last eight games (seven of which the Penguins have won), the top line has a combined 27 points and has scored 13 of the 27 (48.4 percent) Pittsburgh goals.
Crosby’s assists on Kunitz’s two goals Thursday night were his 50th and 51st points of the season, extending his league lead in points to five over Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
Kunitz scored for the second-straight game, with No. 14 (20G) pulling into a fourth-place tie for goals in the league and refusing to be ignored as a potential candidate for Team Canada.
During his season-high nine-game point streak in which Crosby has compiled six goals, nine assists and 15 points, the trio has been brilliant in leading these battered and bruised Penguins to win after win after win.
The play of the top line has taken some pressure off the injured players to rush back and help the team win games, allowing the Penguins to get fully healthy in due time and prepare for the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis will lace up the skates Saturday for a home game against Calgary, searching for the team’s seventh-consecutive win. And if past performance is the best predictor of future outcomes for these three Penguins, the points will continue to pile up.