Dupuis not just riding shotgun

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Pascal Dupuis is tied for third place in the Penguins scoring race.

He has been averaging a point per game since the first weekend in November.

He is on pace to obliterate his personal-best points total, set nearly a decade ago.

And if you take Dupuis at his word, there is no secret about why all that has happened.

"When you're playing with good players, that's what happens," Dupuis said Thursday.

He has a point, of course.

It does not hurt that he has worked alongside quality centers such as Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal for most of the season or that, when the Penguins face Ottawa at 7:08 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center, he figures to be on a line with center Sidney Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz for the third game in a row.

There is, however, more to it than that.

After all, this is not the first time Dupuis has been blessed with excellent linemates. Fact is, he has been teamed with Crosby quite a bit the past few years.

Nonetheless, he never managed to manufacture more than the 48 points he put up for Minnesota in 2002-03.

And, while there is no assurance he will do it this season, either, Dupuis is putting up goals and assists at a rate that suggests he is a better-than-even-money bet to pull it off.

He has four goals and 13 assists in 22 games, which puts him on pace to finish the season with 63 points. That would be 15 more than his personal best.

"I just think it's [that Dupuis is] playing with confidence," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who works with the forwards. "He might be getting a little more ice time in offensive situations."

Maybe, but Dupuis is averaging just a bit over 17 minutes of playing time per game, seventh among Penguins forwards. (Crosby, it should be noted, is one of the six ahead of him.) What's more, Dupuis gets a lot of his work while the Penguins are short-handed -- an average of 2:09 per game -- and the emphasis in those situations is on preventing goals, not scoring them.

Those duties do not figure to be removed from his job description anytime soon, either, because the demands of killing penalties dovetail with Dupuis' strengths.

"He's really responsible defensively -- that's why he gets so much [penalty-killing] ice time -- and you can put him on the ice in any situation and feel comfortable that he's going to do what's asked of him," Granato said.

Dupuis' hockey IQ is high and his commitment to contributing all over the ice is obvious, but his greatest asset is his speed. He uses it not only to disrupt opponents, especially when the Penguins are down a man, but to create scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates.

"He's always going to get chances because of his speed," Granato said.

Sometimes, helping to generate offense involves nothing more than giving his linemates confidence that he'll be able to get back defensively if the unit tries to press a little harder than usual in the attacking zone.

At other times, it means bursting down the wing to get off what can be an overpowering slap shot.

His slap shot does not always go on net, let alone in it -- Dupuis' career shooting percentage is a fairly ordinary 9.2 -- but it is a part of his repertoire other teams can't ignore.

Dupuis actually has not scored on one this season -- his goals have come on breakaways and close-in chances -- but he can be counted on to get at least a few that way every year.

Dupuis has gone as many as three games without a point just once in 2011-12 and, despite going scoreless in a 3-2 overtime loss Wednesday to the St. Louis Blues, has eight points in the past eight games.

And even though he has not had any monstrous offensive games -- Dupuis' three-assist performance in a 5-0 victory Monday against the New York Islanders marked the only time this season he has gotten more than two points -- he is not prone to extended dry spells, either.

"He's always been very consistent," Granato said.

That can't change if Dupuis is to establish a new personal-best for points. And retaining Crosby as his center, which would assure that Dupuis would continue to find himself in offensive situations, would not hurt his chances, either.

Regardless of the circumstances, however, no one who works with Dupuis seems to question that he is capable of having his most productive offensive season as a pro.

"There's nothing wrong with having high expectations, and he's playing really good hockey," Crosby said.

"Hopefully, he'll keep getting rewarded for it."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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