Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz is congratulated by teammates after picking up a hat trick against the New York Islanders Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins keep making things easier for general manager Ray Shero. They aren't just winning games, five in a row after the 6-1 win Sunday night against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center. With the April 3 NHL trade deadline approaching, they are doing a nice job showing Shero what they don't need as much as what they do need.
Is it as obvious to you as it is to me?
The Penguins do not need a big-time goal-scorer to play with Sidney Crosby.
Props to Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis for that.
The Penguins' need for a bigger, stronger, tougher defenseman remains despite solid defensive work in the past three games, including Sunday night when they allowed the Islanders just 10 shots through two periods and 24 for the game. Good luck to Shero finding that guy. A lot of teams will be looking for him at the deadline. But at least Shero can put all of his energy and resources toward finding defensive help. He doesn't have to worry about adding a goal-scorer to a team that easily leads the NHL with 97 goals and has scored at least three in 17 of the past 20 games. It has enough scorers to even withstand the temporary loss of 2012 NHL Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin, who missed the Islanders game with an upper-body injury and will be out for -- in coach Dan Bylsma's words -- "approximately one or two weeks."
Again, major kudos to Kunitz and Dupuis.
Do you realize the Penguins are the only NHL team with four players with at least 10 goals? James Neal and Kunitz have 17, Crosby 12 and Dupuis 11. Note that list doesn't include Malkin, a 50-goal man from a year ago. He has just five goals in 21 games. Think about what the offense will look like once he gets healthy and really gets going.
Kunitz had his second hat trick of the season Sunday night -- two of the goals coming on the power play -- and a five-point game. That gave him goals in six of the past seven games, a total of 10 during the run. He ranks tied for second in the NHL in goals and third in points.
Dupuis scored the Penguins' first goal against the Islanders, ripping a bad-angle shot that somehow got through goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, and their sixth goal, knocking in a sweet pass from Crosby after a Kunitz steal at the Islanders' blue line. It was his third consecutive game with a goal. He's doing a nice job of topping his career-best 25-goal campaign from last season.
Do you think Crosby is loving what Kunitz and Dupuis are doing? For reasons that go beyond his career-best five assists Sunday night? His eight-game points streak, which includes five goals and 15 assists? His NHL-leading 33 assists and 45 points? His league-best 1.73 points-per-game average?
Loving it doesn't even begin to describe it.
"There's a trust factor there," Crosby said. "We all believe in each other. We've played together for a pretty long period of time and we all have high expectations for each other. We know if we go out and compete every night, we're going to generate our share of chances."
This isn't the first time Crosby has excelled with Kunitz and Dupuis. Before his concussion halfway through the 2010-11 season, he was averaging 1.61 points per game. That's why Crosby isn't among those who have said he needs better wingers.
"I've never said that ...
"This isn't the first time I've heard it. It's something that's talked about every year, but it's not something that I've ever paid attention to. I think those guys also do a good job of ignoring it. They know their roles and know what is expected of them. They come to play every night."
This seemed like the right time to ask Crosby what Kunitz and Dupuis bring to their line.
"With [Kunitz], all areas of his game are strong," Crosby said. "Defensively, he makes good plays coming out of our zone. He's smart. He sees the ice really well. He goes to the tough areas. The way he's finding the puck right now, he's making all of us look good. He's as tough as they come ...
"[Dupuis], he has great work ethic. He's going to bring speed every night. He's going to create havoc on the forecheck and make it difficult for the other team to make plays. He really has a lot of confidence shooting the puck right now. You can see he's more and more confident. It's nice to see him getting some good results."
Is it just me or is the Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis line the NHL's best?