Rupp fitting in well with Penguins
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When the Penguins signed Mike Rupp during free agency this summer, they knew they were getting a rugged forward with size who had shown he can play within a system.
A month into Rupp's first season with the Penguins, and heading into a game tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, he has some surprising statistics. Specifically, he has three goals.
That matches his total from each of his past two seasons and gives him three times as many goals this season as fights (one, against Tim Jackman of the Islanders in the second game of the season).
"Our systems are to go north-south and create offense," Rupp said. "I was able to benefit from it."
• Game: Penguins at Anaheim Ducks, 10:08 p.m. today, Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jonas Hiller for Ducks.
• Penguins: Are 6-0 on road. ... RW Bill Guerin is one game shy of 1,200 for career. ... Are 9-2 when credited with 30 or more shots.
• Ducks: Are 2-5 at home. ... Have at least one power-play goal in each of past four games (6 of 14). ... F Corey Perry needs one goal for 100 in career.
• Of note: Ducks have seven players who have scored in overtime.
A valid point, but that's not the whole story.
Rupp, 29, initially was keen on signing with the Stanley Cup champions, but his opinion of the Penguins soared when he realized he had walked into a setting that allows everyone, including newcomers, to thrive.
Part of it is the aggressive, pace-setting style preached by coach Dan Bylsma -- a decided departure from the tight, defense-first approach in New Jersey, where Rupp has spent most of his career. Part of it is the mix of skill and muted egos among his teammates.
"It's a team where I feel like Dan and the coaching staff allow you to play to your strengths and your abilities," Rupp said. "We all have roles on the team, and I understand mine, but at the same time, you're not playing within a box.
"And then the thing I'm surprised the most about here is, I really feel that guys are about winning. It really is going one day at a time, the old cliche. No one's out to get theirs. In the past I've seen [selfishness] be the demise of some teams."
Rupp cited winger Chris Kunitz, who struggled to score before he broke out with two goals and four assists the past three games as he heads into tonight's matchup in his old stomping grounds, Honda Center, against his former club.
"He was doing all the right things and he didn't score," Rupp said. "You know what? He didn't carry it around, and he didn't complain about it. He didn't bring guys down talking about it. He just went out and still did the little things, and he got rewarded for it.
"All of us have played with players that maybe they start dragging their tail. When you don't have that, it's just guys going and pulling the same way. We don't care, and I don't care, who scores every night. We're winning hockey games. I don't care if I score a goal the rest of the year if we're winning."
Which the 11-3 Penguins are, and that helps maintain the atmosphere Rupp has quickly come to appreciate as a newcomer.
"I think it has to do with a lot of things," said team scoring leader and captain Sidney Crosby. "It has to do with those guys coming in and wanting to prove themselves. That's the first thing. And then the better your team plays, the better I think we all as individuals benefit."
Rupp has a gold-star scoring moment on his resume -- the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for New Jersey against Anaheim as a rookie in 2003 -- but he's not worried about re-creating himself as a scorer.
Still, Rupp has done some extra shooting drills with assistant Tony Granato, and Bylsma has given the 6-foot-5, 230-pound center/winger opportunities to occasionally take shifts on scoring lines, usually with center Evgeni Malkin, and to get more ice time when Bylsma senses he's having a good game.
"It's very positive for the players because it's showing a belief in us in different situations and, in turn, gives us a little swagger," Rupp said.
Even though the Penguins identified grit as an area they needed to address early last season, there was some question about whether adding Rupp was redundant. They had a rugged winger willing to fight in Eric Godard.
It turns out there's plenty of room for both.
"He's physical. He's a big guy. But he's got a lot of skill to him, too," said Godard, who got a call from team officials when Rupp was signed reassuring him there wasn't an either/or situation with the two.
"He'll mix it up, but he's got really good hands, too. It's great to have him on the team."
Godard knows about Bylsma's willingness to give players a chance to expand their roles. The coach will occasionally give Godard a shift on a top-three line or even on the power play if the situation allows, as he did last week late in a 6-1 victory against Montreal.
"I think it's a real healthy environment," Rupp said.