To hear Evgeni Malkin tell it, he might be the weak link on the Penguins' latest go-getter -- or make that goal-getter -- line.
Looking to jump-start his team, particularly its even-strength offense, coach Michel Therrien assembled the trio of Sidney Crosby centering Malkin and speedy Pascal Dupuis going into the weekend.
That left Malkin choking on his linemates' dust, especially that of Dupuis. Or so he joked after the three came up big Saturday in a 4-1 win against Toronto.
"He's got good speed," Malkin said of Dupuis. "He skates very well. Sid skates good. I'm a little bit slow. It's OK."
"No, they are good partners. I like to play with Sid and [Dupuis]."
In fact, it is Dupuis who is a bit humbled being a part of a forward combination with two guys considered to be among the top three or four hockey players in the world.
"Right now, I'm the lucky guy that they are looking for," Dupuis said.
Crosby and Malkin, who normally plays center, had four points apiece, and Dupuis converted a pass from Crosby for an important first-period goal, one that tied the score, 1-1, less than a minute after Toronto had taken a lead on what proved to be its only goal.
"They look for each other first, and then they look for me after, but they do have a lot of skill to find guys open on the ice," Dupuis said.
In fact, Crosby passed up at least a couple good chances to shoot in order to get the puck to Dupuis.
"When you put me and [Malkin] on a line, we're going to draw some attention," Crosby said. "With [Dupuis'] speed, he's going to be able to find some openings. He can definitely shoot the puck. He's going to get some good looks.
"He's going to be able to join the rush a lot. And if he's not really a part of the play ... open ... then he's at least going to push them back with his speed. They have to respect that."
It's unclear whether Therrien will keep the same line combinations tonight when the Penguins play at Boston, but he has proven loathe to change things much after a victory.
Dupuis was part of a blockbuster deal with Atlanta at the February trade deadline that brought in Marian Hossa to be Crosby's right winger. They clicked, and the team advanced to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final before falling to Detroit -- which then snagged Hossa as a free-agent signee in July.
Dupuis had a regular spot on that top line with Crosby and Hossa. He had two goals, seven points in 20 playoff games after getting two goals in six regular-season games after the trade.
He spent time earlier this season on the third line while the Penguins looked at Ruslan Fedkotenko on the top unit, but Dupuis seems to keep gravitating to Crosby's left flank.
"I guess I'm bringing something to the table," said Dupuis, who scored in overtime against Philadelphia last week and, with two goals, is well ahead of a pace to score at least 10 goals for the seventh consecutive season.
An undrafted free agent, Dupuis, 29, is with his fourth NHL team. He has the unusual statistic of getting a goal in his first game with each of those four teams. With the Penguins, that came against Boston.
He has two goals, five points in nine career games against the Bruins. Perhaps he will add to that tonight if he continues to play with linemates with such skill.
"These two guys are so good with puck possession, I just tried to get open, use my speed a little bit," he said of Saturday's game. "They found me a couple times. I got one in. I could have had three goals."
On his goal, he beat Toronto goaltender Curtis Joseph off a backhand shovel pass from Crosby, who also had a lane to shoot. Dupuis added an unofficial assist for another teammate.
"Petr Sykora said before the game, '[Joseph] never has his stick on the ice; try to go five-hole.' I did with a backhand, and it went in," Dupuis said.
On the ice, Dupuis admires Crosby's playmaking ability.
"He's the best player in the league," he said. "It's always good to play with a guy like that. It's always a challenge. Obviously, he's a pretty intense guy. I try to play hard, play intense."
But he doesn't always defer to the team's 21-year-old star.
"We talk on the bench," Dupuis said. "Sometimes he tries to tell me where to go on the ice, but I've been around a little bit."
When that was relayed to Crosby, he grinned and confirmed that happens.
"I think I always do that," he said. "Every shift you're trying to adjust. But he's got that veteran prowess."
And a notch on his resume after playing with two of the NHL's elite young talents.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published October 20, 2008 4:00 AM