Dupuis thrives for Penguins despite scoring drought

Pascal Dupuis might well have been the NHL's best bargain the past few seasons.

He had morphed from a reliable, responsible winger whose game was built on a foundation of defense and desire into a top-six winger who was a genuine force at both ends of the ice.

And that rise in productivity was not accompanied by a commensurate increase in pay.

Sure, Dupuis was making a pretty fair living -- his salary for each of the past two seasons was $1.5 million -- but his pay was far below the league average, while his contributions were well above it.

That all has changed.

Dupuis no longer is underrated and under-appreciated the way he used to be and, perhaps most important, no one thinks of him as underpaid anymore, either.

Not since he signed a four-year deal with an annual value of $3.75 million in the offseason.

Scouting report
Matchup: Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4:08 p.m. today, Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.

TV, Radio: Root Sports; WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Ben Bishop for Lightning.
Penguins: Are 2-4-1 on road in November. ... Lead the Eastern Conference with 30 third-period goals. ... Sidney Crosby leads NHL with 33 points and has at least a point in 20 of 26 games.

Lightning: Has won seven home games in row but are 2-3-1 in past six overall. Has allowed four short-handed goals, tied for most in league going into Thursday. ... Victor Hedman has eight points (four goals, four assists) in past seven games.

Hidden stat: Penguins had a season-high 48 shots Wednesday in 6-5 shootout win against Toronto.

But now that he is making first-line money, Dupuis' offensive numbers look more like those of a guy with the blue-collar role he used to fill: He will enter the Penguins' game against Tampa Bay at 4:08 p.m. today at Tampa Bay Times Forum with three goals and 10 assists in 26 games.

He has produced just one point, an assist, in the past seven games, and it's not because he's on a line that struggles to generate offense. Dupuis' center, Sidney Crosby, is the NHL's leading scorer and his left winger, Chris Kunitz, was tied for 14th in the league before Thursday.

"I know I need to produce," Dupuis said. "They're asking me to."

He recently was removed from the No. 1 line briefly, although that purportedly was because the coaches were seeking balance among the lines, not because they were worried about Dupuis' output. Which doesn't mean his bosses are oblivious to his modest offensive numbers.

"With the amount of scoring he's given us the past few years, you're always hoping he can get back to that kind of pace, and he will," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who oversees the forwards.

"Sometimes, you go through stretches where things don't go as well offensively as you want them to. That's part of pro sports. It doesn't go perfect all the time."

Dupuis acknowledged that "you want to score goals," but long has avoided taking a paint-by-numbers approach to assessing his performance.

"I don't [evaluate] my game on points and goals and stuff," he said. "They're bonuses."

The core of his job description, he said, remains what he does to prevent goals, not score them.

Dupuis is a go-to penalty-killer -- he averages one minute, 50 seconds of short-handed ice time per game, more than any Penguins forward except Craig Adams -- and invariably is sent out when the Penguins are trying to protect a late-game lead.

Granato is adamant that Dupuis' offensive struggles have "absolutely not" bled into the other facets of his play.

"His [penalty-killing] has been outstanding all year," he said. "He's been reliable defensively all year. He's blocked shots when we've needed him to. The other parts of his game have not fallen."

Although Dupuis takes a fierce pride in his defensive work -- that's part of the reason he's so good at it -- his confidence in the attacking zone has been shaken by this dry spell.

"I'm a little snakebit now, maybe," he said. "I get [a potential] empty-netter and it's going straight in, and the first bounce it takes, it goes 7 feet wide," he said. "Just little things like that.

"I get a tip that goes through the goalie's legs and stays on the goal line. It's all those little things."

What it is not, Dupuis insisted, is a reaction to his new contract. While his paychecks are a lot bigger, he said he doesn't feel any additional pressure to put up points.

"Maybe I should, but, no," he said. "I want to live up to whatever I'm making, but I think I'm doing other things besides scoring that are helping this team win.

Granato agreed.

"It's the first time in his career where it's been that type of a situation," he said. "But he's the same person."

Dupuis, it should be noted, doesn't necessarily embrace the widely held belief that getting any goal, any way is enough to get a struggling player back on track.

"I don't think so," he said. "You'll play with more confidence after you get one, but it's not even that.

"It's about playing the right way. If you do that, the goals and points are going to come."

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

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