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Kunitz searching for answers to goal-scoring drought

by Shawn P. Roarke /

"It's something you think about -- look back each game at different chances or whatever. But it is something that when your team is winning you don't focus on it too much. You try to do different areas of your game well."
-- Chris Kunitz

SOUTHPOINTE, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz knows how to score goals, having three straight 20-goal seasons under his belt.

After being traded from Anaheim to the Penguins in February, Kunitz scored seven goals in his final 20 regular-season games to play a huge role in the Pens' climb up the Eastern Conference standings.

But that goal-scoring pedigree is not helping Kunitz this spring. He has no goals in Pittsburgh's first 14 playoff games.

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Just as distressing, Kunitz has just four goals in 49 postseason games, dating to his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in 2006.

"It's something you think about -- look back each game at different chances or whatever," Kunitz said Tuesday after his team's optional skate at their suburban practice facility. "But it is something that when your team is winning you don't focus on it too much. You try to do different areas of your game well."

To be sure, there is plenty that Kunitz brings to a game aside from scoring. He is sound defensively, which is important when playing on an offense-first line, and he can punish defensemen when he gets in on the forecheck. He is also a tenacious puck hawk, working constantly to put the Penguins back into contention.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma calls those areas the foundation of Kunitz's game. In fact, Bylsma believes that each player has a unique set of skills they employ to be at the top of their game. For Kunitz, hard work and tenacity are the buttresses of his success.

"Certainly Chris Kunitz is a guy that will end up on the score sheet, should end up on the score sheet occasionally," Bylsma said Tuesday afternoon. "But his role is straight-line, aggressive hockey; (go) to the front of the net, (be) physical. If things aren't going well for him, he should always return to that foundation."

Bylsma says he has spoken to Kunitz regularly throughout the playoffs about the goal-scoring struggles, assuring him there are other ways in which he can contribute to the cause. He points to the breakout series that Sidney Crosby had against the Washington Capitals, a series in which the Pittsburgh captain had 8 goals and 12 points.

"We talk about the success of Sidney Crosby in the last series; Chris Kunitz was on the ice for a lot of that success," Bylsma said.

The message -- at least some of it -- seems to be getting through to Kunitz.

"I want to be in straight lines, I want to be physical, I want to be playing good defense, be in good position," Kunitz says. "When you are winning, maybe you are off one step, but there is somebody else making up for it."

But he understands that the no-shot, two-hit performance he turned in during Monday's series-opening 3-2 victory against Carolina will not be satisfactory if the Penguins plan on getting to the Stanley Cup Final.

While he talks about staying with his foundation, he is also wracking his brains for the answers that will break him out of a slump that becomes more troublesome by the day. He admits to looking at old game film, hoping to find the magic elixir to get his game back to regular-season form.

What exactly is it he tries to define as he watches video of himself?

"Maybe what you have done in the past or if it is something you are focusing on too much," he says. "It's just the regular things. You have to move your feet, you've got to get to the areas, got to stay in the areas, get your stick on pucks and go to the tough areas. That's where goals are going to be scored -- especially in the playoffs."

Right now, though, Kunitz will take a goal from any area of the ice. He's not going to be picky about how he gets that damning goose egg off the playoff stats page.

"It's something that you have to break out of and, hopefully, it comes soon," he said.
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