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Kunitz Capitalizing on Opportunities

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
When opposing teams players try to contain the red-hot Sidney Crosby, they sometimes pay less attention to his linemate Chris Kunitz.

That proved to be a mistake on Monday, as Kunitz was a driving force behind Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win over New Jersey at CONSOL Energy Center.

The Penguins forward scored a goal and an assist for his second two-point effort of the season, while wearing an “A” in the absence of forward Evgeni Malkin.

He has been one of the unsung heroes behind the Penguins ten-game winning streak, tallying a point in six of those contests. He has four goals and three assists over that span.

He paces all Penguins wingers with a total of 17 points (8G-9A) through 29 games.

“I think Chris Kunitz is maybe being the player that we didn’t see at times early on,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.

“Now he’s the guy finishing and making plays, in addition to the crashing and banging and the net presence and the drive. His contributions shouldn’t be overshadowed at all with the way he’s playing.”

Kunitz, who has been a fixture on the Penguins’ top line with Crosby and Pascal Dupuis, netted a crucial goal 15:41 into the first off a beautiful setup by the Pittsburgh captain.

Crosby caught a pass from Dupuis in his skates, which he kicked to his stick mid-stride. He proceeded to throw a cross-ice pass to a streaking Kunitz, who one-timed it past Devils goalie Johan Hedberg to tie the game at 1-1.

“(Crosby) is on such a tear right now that some guys overplay him,” Kunitz said. “It leaves a lot of ice over there for some of us on the offset. It was a good play by him and a nice crisp pass. I don’t think the goalie had a lot of time to respond to it.”

Crosby accoladed his linemate for his impeccable timing.

“I just saw (Kunitz) kind of delay a bit,” he said. “He didn’t slow down a ton, but it was just enough to create some separation from the defenseman he was in front of. So I just tried to put it in the space there so he could step into. He ripped it. It was a great shot. It was a big goal to kind of get us back there.”

Kunitz then earned a helper on Crosby’s game-winning goal at the 12:49 mark of the second. He sent a puck to Alex Goligoski on the point and immediately headed toward the net, freeing the way for Crosby to bang the rubber home.

“Kunitz does such a great job in front,” Crosby said. “A lot of times, the D aren’t able to get their sticks loose to clear rebounds. He tied up his guy in front and the rebound came over to me.”

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And not only has Kunitz been chipping in offensively, but he has the physical presence to back it up. He ranks third on the squad and second among Penguins forwards with 73 hits, throwing a team-leading four hits on Monday through 19:01 of ice time.

Chris Kunitz is a guy who’s always been a straight line, physical guy with a presence at the net, making room for Sid,” Bylsma added.
“You just try to be in the moment with (Crosby) and keep going out there,” Kunitz said. “We’re definitely fortunate he’s one of our leaders, and when he goes, the team goes.”

And Crosby could say the same about Kunitz.
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