Left winger Chris Kunitz scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season as the Penguins took the first end of a back-to-back home-and-home series with the Washington Capitals with a 3-2 victory at Verizon Center Monday night.
Kunitz continued his personal record-breaking year by hitting the 30-goal mark for the first time in his 9-plus year NHL career.
Kunitz’s first goal came when he pulled the puck through defenseman Mike Green and lifted a backhander past Capitals goalie Jaroslav Halak just 46 seconds into the game. His second tally came off a rebound in the second period from the slot.
Kunitz was aided by his linemates Sidney Crosby and Lee Stempniak.
“Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and (Lee) Stempniak not only found some plays, some chances, they were exceptional,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Crosby had one of his best games of the season. He recorded a power-play goal and added two assists for a three-point night, factoring in on all three Pens’ goals. And he dominated in the faceoff circles, winning 14 of 19 draws (74 percent).
“It was a very good game in all aspects,” Bylsma said of Crosby.
Crosby recorded his goal off a hard one-timer from the near circle.
“I don’t take too many of those,” Crosby said of his one-timer goal. “It was nice to see one go in. When you’re in that area you know it’s the open side of the net. When you are there and when (Evgeni Malkin) makes a nice pass like that there is some room if you get it off quick enough.”
Stempniak, acquired by the Pens at the trade deadline last week, recorded two assists in the game, both on Kunitz’s goals.
“There are a lot of reads I need to get better at,” Stempniak said. “Those guys have been playing together a long time. For me knowing where pucks will go and where they want support, little things like that will come with time. Hopefully, it comes quicker than later.”
Pittsburgh's No. 1 ranked penalty killing unit had to come up with a crucial late kill against Washington’s No. 2 ranked power play. With 2:17 to play in regulation, the Pens were whistled for too many men on the ice. Then with 1:21 to go, the Caps pulled Halak for a six-on-four try.
The Pens were able to hold the Capitals at bay, including Alex Ovechkin, who has an NHL-best 18 power-play goals. It was the key moment in the game and the Pens PK stood tall.
“Sometimes you have to rise to the occasion and get the job done,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “I think we did a good job of taking away the passing lanes through the middle. They have Ovechkin and (John) Carlson with big one-timers. I thought we did a good job of sitting back and not giving them the passing lane. Making them shoot it themselves.”
Forward Chris Conner has fully recovered from his broken hand. But…
In Sunday’s practice Conner blocked a shot and suffered a broken foot. He is out 4-6 weeks with the injury and is on crutches.
“This one is a head shaker,” Bylsma said. “Just an innocent play in practice that happened to catch him in the right spot.”
Author: Sam Kasan