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Dupuis' absence taking toll on Penguins' production

| Monday, March 3, 2014, 9:57 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby stand of the ice during the Stadium game against the Blackhawks on Saturday, March 1, 2014, at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis (left) celebrates a goal with Chris Kuntiz (right) and Sidney Crosby during their Dec. 19, 2013, game against the Wild. Four days later, Dupuis suffered a season-ending injury.

Through almost a half-season, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz were enjoying campaigns in which their even-strength production was outpacing what they'd done throughout their careers.

Since Christmas, though, there's been a noticeable dropoff.

It's not a coincidence.

Since a torn ACL sustained early in a game at Ottawa on Dec. 23 ended Pascal Dupuis' season, the even-strength points-per-game for his linemates on the Penguins' top line have dropped 21 percent.

“We haven't tried to — and I don't think you're going to — replace what Pascal brings to our team,” coach Dan Bylsma said, while at the same time noting that the Penguins' record without Dupuis has been “really good.”

That's largely true. The Penguins averaged 1.41 standings points in games Dupuis has appeared in this season, and that number has dropped just to 1.38 since Dupuis has been out. Even the team's offense (3.21 goals per game before the 5-0 loss to Ottawa in which Dupuis was injured; 3.18 after), on whole, hasn't sputtered.

But instead of the line of Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis leading the way, it's the Evgeni Malkin-James Neal-Jussi Jokinen line shouldering the offensive load. During calendar year 2014, Malkin, Neal and Jokinen have accounted for 24 goals and 54 points. The total of the 24 other skaters whom the Penguins have used? Thirty-six goals and 105 points.

The “bottom six” forwards are receiving most of the blame for that, but the Crosby line isn't scoring the way it used to five-on-five, either.

Before taking the ice Dec. 23 against the Senators — Dupuis was injured early in that game — Crosby and Kunitz were averaging a combined 1.55 even-strength points per game. While playing with Brian Gibbons and others, Crosby and Kunitz's even-strength production has slipped to 1.23 points per game. The situation appears to be deteriorating, too. At even strength, Crosby and Kunitz have combined for two points — both Crosby assists — in the past seven games.

“He's been a huge loss for our team,” Kunitz said of Dupuis. “Not only on our line, it's our penalty kill and our locker room. He's a guy who's always a fun-loving, spirited guy. … A great teammate.”

Individually, Crosby's even-strength points-per-game this season has fallen 22 percent and Kunitz's 21 percent since the game Dupuis left the ice with torn knee ligaments.

Crosby was at a .92 points-per-game pace at even strength before then; he's down to .73 after. Kunitz has dropped from .63 to .50.

“They're gonna come,” Crosby said assuredly, referring to Kunitz's points. Kunitz doesn't have a point since Jan. 30. “He trusts his game and we do, too, so I wouldn't be surprised if he started putting them in.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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