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Starkey: Pens move on with, without Dupuis

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Penguins' Patric Hornqvist checks the Red Wings' Jeff Hoggan during the second period of their preseason opener Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

There is a cold reality to professional sports. The Penguins felt the full chill Thursday morning at Consol Energy Center. They officially began life without Pascal Dupuis, at least six months because of a blood clot in one of his lungs.

At the same time, Dupuis isn’t going anywhere.

The first thing that struck me upon entering the arena was that, as players went through their on-ice paces, Dupuis sat in the stands chatting with general manager Jim Rutherford. Turns out the club plans to keep Dupuis involved, and not just on the periphery.

Early next week, coach Mike Johnston said, “We’re going to put together some sort of job description.”

Who could argue with that? Dupuis has a unique presence that can only help. The man sweats positivity.

“You know when you come to the rink in the morning how Duper’s going to be,” veteran forward Craig Adams said. “When you get on the plane, you know how he’s going to be. Not a lot of ups and downs with him. Mostly up all the time. I can’t say that for all of us.”

On the ice, the Penguins will need a winger at some point. They are one injury away from a serious depth problem. The good news is Rutherford does not need to take immediate action. The team is winning. Blake Comeau and Nick Spaling will play on the top two lines for now. Beau Bennett is a logical candidate to move up if more skill is needed, although he and Brandon Sutter have established a wonderful connection on the third line.

Rutherford isn’t the type to sit on his hands. Sooner or later, you have to figure the Penguins will strike.

In the meantime, a more pressing question came to the surface Thursday: How, if at all, is this team better prepared than last year’s to cope without Dupuis’ day-to-day presence?

Dupuis can only lend so much if he isn’t in the room every day. What happens to the personality of this team without him?

Only time can tell, of course, but my initial feeling is that this club is much better prepared than last year’s. Something was amiss last season. Morale wasn’t as high as it should have been for a 109-point team. Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik conceded after the season that the fun factor had diminished.

Orpik said, “We let the pressure get to us.”

This group emits a different vibe. Rutherford, upon taking the job, said he wanted “louder voices” in the room. Then he went out and found some veterans with presence in the likes of Comeau, Spaling, Christian Ehrhoff, Steve Downie and Patric Hornqvist, who reminds some people of Dupuis in terms of his relentlessly cheerful demeanor.

I asked Adams if this group is better equipped to deal with Dupuis’ absence.

“That’s hard to say,” he said. “We can’t replace him. But, as far as the personality of this team, I think maybe with the guys we’ve brought in, we’re a little bit more upbeat this year.”

Asked to expound upon some of the new guys, Adams said, “We brought in some guys who’ve been around and are professionals. You know what they’re going to bring every day. You can rely on them. Not that we didn’t have that before with the guys who left us this summer. But it just seems like the personalities have meshed well so far this year.

“Hopefully the guys can continue to enjoy one another.”

Even without Dupuis, and sometimes with him, that seems like a distinct possibility. Winning really should be fun.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at [email protected].

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