For Penguins, no Parise, no problem
Penguins right wing Pascal Dupuis looked to his right recently and asked new teammate Tanner Glass if he played wing or center.
“Wing,” Glass said.
“Oh,” Dupuis said with a laugh. “Maybe you can be Sid's winger.”
It seems that Dupuis and left wing Chris Kunitz — the two who likely will flank center Sidney Crosby when the season begins Saturday — rarely are viewed as talented-enough linemates for arguably the game's greatest player.
The statistics, however, indicate Kunitz and Dupuis are the best linemates Crosby has ever had. Even so, the Penguins tried to acquire coveted free agent Zach Parise last summer.
“It's going to be the same thing every year,” said Dupuis, half jokingly. “You're always trying to find better players to play with Sid. It's four years in a row now. That stuff doesn't affect me.”
Before his career-altering concussion midway through the 2010-11 season, Crosby was having his best statistical season. Despite scoring plummeting around the league, Crosby was on pace for 64 goals and 132 points before a concussion derailed the season and much of the following one.
When Crosby was piling up his best numbers, Dupuis and Kunitz were by his side.
“I love playing with those guys,” Crosby said. “They're really good skaters. We've had a lot of success together.”
Crosby deserves much of the credit, but there is little question his game was complemented by Dupuis and Kunitz, their speed and ferocity meshing with his.
“It has definitely worked well,” Kunitz said. “Can't deny that.”
Even without Crosby for most of the 2011-12 season, Kunitz and Dupuis continued to produce, proving their production was not merely a reflection of playing with Crosby. Kunitz registered career-highs with 26 goals and 62 points while playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Dupuis, playing most of the season without star power on his line and rarely seeing power-play time, scored career-highs of 25 goals and 59 points.
Neither was insulted when the Penguins pursued Parise, who ultimately signed with Minnesota.
“There are a handful of great players out there, and if you can get them, that's good for everyone,” Kunitz said. “Plus, in Nealer, we have a guy who scored 40 goals.”
Perhaps it speaks volumes of Kunitz and Dupuis that general manager Ray Shero never made a bold move for another forward after Parise left the market.
“There are a lot of good wingers on this team, a lot of good players,” Dupuis said. “We're excited about the team that we have. We know what we haven't accomplished during the past three years. It's time.”
The winger position, often viewed as a Penguins' weakness, is hardly that on paper.
Besides Kunitz and Dupuis, Neal has emerged as a star, and the third line boasts two productive performers in Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke.
“We aren't so bad,” Dupuis said. “And we're ready for the season to start. We feel really good about ourselves.”