DETROIT -- Right winger Pascal Dupuis was eyeing his regular center, Sidney Crosby, in the Penguins locker room one day this week. There was a twinkle in those eyes.
"He's a ... relatively ... young veteran," Dupuis said of Crosby. "He looks 30, but I think he's 20- ... 6? If you look at his number, he was born in '87. It gives it away."
Crosby, who famously wears his birth year as his uniform number, shot back, "It took [Dupuis] a while to get that. He's a late bloomer."
"Some guys are late bloomers; some guys are silver spooners," he jabbed.
And so went another exchange among linemates who get a lot of attention for meshing well in games -- Crosby, a playmaker and scorer of the highest order; Dupuis with his speed and veteran savvy; and Chris Kunitz, who blends skill with physical play and fearlessly patrols the front of the net.
The three also have an interesting relationship off of the ice -- one that is laced with equal amounts of repartee and respect.
Dupuis brings humor and non-stop commentary. Crosby is the humble NHL star. Those two clash the most, in a lively but good-natured way. And what of the third member of what could arguably be the top forward line in the league?
"He's Switzerland," Crosby said of Kunitz. "He's neutral.
"He seems like he'll pick [Dupuis'] side one time and he'll pick my side the next time. Me and [Dupuis] just kind of go back and forth. He kind of just picks a side. He seems to stay out of it until he wants to get involved."
Dupuis wanted a piece of that explanation.
"What side are you on usually?" he asked Crosby.
"The opposite of yours," Crosby said.
"Exactly," Dupuis replied. "And, if you ask anybody, I'm more on the positive side of it. [Kunitz] is neutral. [Crosby] is the negative side of it."
Crosby just hung his head and laughed.
The three can afford some levity, and not just in training camp. They combined for 57 goals, 146 points last season, which was shortened by nearly half because of a lockout.
Kunitz had two goals and an assist, Dupuis had a goal and Crosby two assists Wednesday in a 5-1 preseason win against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
Kunitz readily admitted he's the quiet one, but he appreciates the way the three get along. They are part of a group of players who usually go out to dinner on the road the night before games.
"I think that's part of the chemistry of building a team," Kunitz said. "If you're happy and having fun, guys usually have more success.
"I think everybody knows [Dupuis] has that fun character, an outgoing locker-room kind of guy. Me and Sid are a little more reserved in that area. Outside of the rink, we get along really well."
Because of that, they have found ways to defuse any conflicts during games, which sometimes arise simply because it's not always easy to play with such an elite player as Crosby, the first overall draft pick in the 2005 draft.
"I won't take criticism as well as probably [Kunitz] will if something comes my way," Dupuis said.
"[Crosby] knows if I don't see him out there, it's not because I don't want to see him; it's because I really did not see him.
"If he comes back to the bench, I'm like 'Sid,' and he's, like, 'Duper, you didn't see me that play?' I'll look at him and, with the eye contact, he knows. I try my best out there. Sometimes, I just don't see him. The [elite] way he sees things, he thinks everybody sees them the same way."
All is well when they get off of the ice and start the litany of inside jokes.
"I always pretend like I don't know how old he is and say he's pretty fast for 36, and he always corrects me," Crosby said.
Kunitz, who turns 34 today, and Dupuis, 34, are each married with children.
Kunitz's two sometimes hang out with Dupuis' four, such as for trick or treating. Crosby is unmarried.
"Our personalities are not the same," Dupuis said.
"We're at different spots in our life away from the rink. But we all respect each other. We respect the work ethic.
"He plays with two never-drafted guys. We respect where each other is coming from."
So does Crosby show up for Sunday dinner or offer to baby-sit for his linemates so they can have date nights with their wives?
Certainly not with Dupuis, thanks to Crosby's deep superstitions.
"I have a black cat, so he won't come over," Dupuis said. "It's been a year and a half, he hasn't been over. I have two [large] Bernese mountain dogs and he was over, but just a little darker looking cat and he hasn't been."
Dupuis, who for three seasons roomed with Crosby on the road, believes it's important that away from the rink the players draw Crosby -- normally something of a hockey head -- into conversations about other things.
"He needs that," Dupuis said. "You can't think hockey 24/7. You'll go crazy.
"You'll overthink everything. You'll get tired. And you miss out on so much stuff that you can enjoy in life."
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published September 26, 2013 4:00 AM