clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This Line is Tops. Penguins 3, Oilers 2

Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis do it again.

Vincent Pugliese

The Penguins didn't commit $26.5 million and seven contract years to a pair of over-30 forwards in the first season of a trimmed salary cap for any old reason.

Sidney Crosby, captain, franchise center and NHL crash test dummy, has gradually turned grinding forwards Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis into bona fide scorers and would-be commodities on the free agent market. Rather than let them walk last summer, the team re-signed both veteran wingers before they could get to market.

Just six games in, the Pens seem to be getting every penny out of their investment.

The line combined for two goals and seven points in Tuesday night's 3-2 win over the visiting Edmonton Oilers, pushing the Penguins to a 5-1-0 mark through six games with a perfect 4-0-0 home record.

"We generated some good chances tonight and it was nice to see them go in," Crosby said.

Those three have been generating some good chances each time they take the ice, particularly at even strength. The line has a combined point total of 24 (9G, 13A) through the first six games of the year.

Crosby and his favored wingers have been together since 2010, for as long as his health has allowed. Last year, the trio turned in their best collective performance, scoring at career-high paces in the shortened season.

Those performances helped to make Dupuis in particular a tough asset to retain as free agency approached.

Instead of testing the waters, Dupuis signed a four-year extension, following Kunitz's lead. Kunitz still had one year remaining on his deal before signing through 2017, the same term as Dupuis. Keeping the late-blooming scorers locked up and playing with their favorite center has payed handsome dividends for the Penguins already.

Not that they're content with their performances so far.

"We're still getting there," Kunitz said of himself and his line after Tuesday's victory. "We didn't execute all that great tonight."

Sure they didn't.

Two more even-strength goals, including Crosby's team-leading fifth, kept them among the most productive line combinations in this early part of the season.

"There were some plays left out there and some turnovers that we're definitely going to have to look at with the coaches and have some video sessions," Kunitz said, "but there's a lot of room for improvement."

Sure there is.

The trio's 24 points account for nearly 40 percent of the team's collective offensive output this season. The Penguins came into Tuesday's action ranked 3rd in the NHL in goals per game.

The top line was almost all the Pens needed to beat the leaky Jason LaBarbera, who allowed two goals on shots from the slot (and nearly surrendered several more on biffed saves) before being cleanly beaten by Evgeni Malkin's third period one-timer.

Malkin's game-winner was his second of the year and first against the Oilers, the last NHL club not named the Penguins against which he had yet to score.

Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky scored for Edmonton, which moved to 1-5-1 on the season under first-year bench boss Dallas Eakins.

Even with production from Malkin and a surprisingly effective fourth line, the Crosby unit is what is helping the team collect points against a more-than-friendly early schedule.

Their output couldn't be better timed. Pittsburgh is already invoking its early-season injury act, as James Neal was moved to injured reserve Tuesday morning and Beau Bennett was scratched for the first time this season. They joined Kris Letang and Tomas Vokoun as other impact players already manning the press box, wearing the Penguins' cap-pressured team depth even thinner.

While Crosby still failed to find his first marker against the Oilers, his three-assist night moved him back into first in the NHL scoring race with 12 points.

Half of those 12 points have come in the last two games, with his hat trick of assists following a three-goal night against Tampa Bay last Saturday.

The Penguins will take the offense however they can get it.

"I have no preference how he celebrates," Dan Bylsma said of how Crosby collects his points.

"I liked his celebrations in the last game, too."

Audio & quotes courtesy Jason Seidling, Ali Doyle & the Pittsburgh Penguins.