Top line propels Penguins past Islanders
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma mentioned before Sunday night's game at Consol Energy Center that dealing with the Islanders after playing 24 hours earlier presented a challenge because of the visiting team's youth.
He didn't take into account that Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are aging like fine wine.
Kunitz and Dupuis, both 33, combined for five goals and two assists as the Penguins steamrolled the Islanders, 6-1. The duo further dismissed a notion held by many before the season that the Penguins required a marquee winger to play with captain Sidney Crosby.
“Those guys are unbelievable right now,” rookie winger Beau Bennett said. “I'm learning a lot watching them.”
So is the rest of the NHL.
Kunitz produced the fourth hat trick of his career — he also added two assists — and Dupuis scored twice. Every player on the Penguins' top line is in double digits in goals, the only three-man unit in the league that can make that claim.
“We're just trying to do our job,” Kunitz said. “And we're doing a good job of it right now.”
Kunitz has 17 goals — tied for second in the NHL. His career-high of 26 goals was set last season.
At this pace, Kunitz will easily squash his all-time goal total even though this NHL season is only 48 games long.
The ice was littered with sock monkeys — a promotional giveaway — after Kunitz completed the hat trick.
“Giveaway nights seem to be a hot night to get hat tricks on this team,” Kunitz said.
No team is hotter when it comes to scoring goals. As the Penguins lead the NHL with 96.
Dupuis has 11 goals and would be on pace to break his career-high of 25 goals — also set last season — if this weren't a shortened season.
Dupuis said he has never been on a line like this one during his NHL career.
“Not really,” he said. “Chris Kunitz is obviously a top player in this league. And it helps when you're playing with the best center in the league.”
Naturally, Crosby had plenty to do with the Penguins' success against the Islanders. He has now produced 73 points — his most against any team — in 39 career games against the Islanders.
Crosby produced five assists on this night and is threatening to pull away from the pack in the NHL scoring race. With 45 points, Crosby leads Tampa Bay winger Steven Stamkos by eight.
Crosby is currently on an eight-game scoring streak. He has produced 20 points in those eight games and has recorded three points or more nine times in his past 19 games.
“Those guys aren't missing very often,” Bennett said.
That is particularly true of Kunitz.
“He's not a flashy player,” Bylsma said. “He's not a guy who goes end-to-end or who tries to beat guys one-on-one. He's straight-line.”
And he's making a straight line right to the top of the NHL scoring leaders.
Kunitz trails Stamkos by two in the goal-scoring race and is in third place in the NHL scoring race, one point behind Stamkos and nine behind Crosby.
Crosby is happy to see Kunitz and Dupuis on such a roll.
“It feels good,” Crosby said. “Those guys work so hard. They bring the same effort every night.”
Dupuis started the scoring with a bad-angle shot and finished it by converting on a feed from Crosby.
The two were able to joke about Dupuis' far-side shot, which wasn't necessarily his intention.
“Duper must have read the play really well to put it far-side like that,” Crosby said with a smile.
Dupuis simply nodded when told of the comment.
“If Sid would have had the puck there,” Dupuis said, “he would have gone short-side, obviously. But I don't know. I'll take it.”
So will the Penguins.