When Kunitz woke up Friday morning, he found his name among the NHL leader board in several categories: points, goals and plus-minus rating.
The Penguins winger ranks third (tied) in the NHL scoring race with 31 points, sits fourth (tied) in goals with 14, and tops the league (tied) with a plus-17 rating.
“That’s unchartered territory for me,” Kunitz joked.
Kunitz has been particularly effective lately. Following his two-goal, three-point night in Philadelphia Thursday, he now has a career-long seven-game scoring streak (8G-4A) and career-long five-game goal-scoring streak (7).
Kunitz has been one of the team’s most consistent players this year. He has tallied at least one point in 19 of the Penguins’ 24 games and has points in 15 of his last 17 contests.
“The puck seems to be going in the net,” he said. “Hopefully, it keeps going.”
It isn’t that surprising to see Kunitz scoring goals with such success. After all, he is a five-time 20-goal scorer. What is a little surprising is the way he’s scoring his goals.
Kunitz, 33, plays a physical and fast brand of hockey. He’s a guy that likes to get his hands dirty around the net and in the blue paint. Kunitz picks up a lot of his goals on rebounds and in net-front battles. But lately he’s been scoring goals off of odd-man rushes and from the perimeter – an area where snipers prefer to shoot.
Kunitz scored two goals in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 win against the Flyers. His first goal came from crashing the net and finding a loose puck. His second goal, the game-winner, came off a rush play where Crosby laid a cross-ice pass and Kunitz one-timed a blast into the net.
“We see (Kunitz) at the net so often, we see him around the cage an awful lot and that’s more typical of his type of goals,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We don’t view him as a sniper or just a shooter. He has scored a few more recently, especially the last 10 games. I think some of it is Sidney finding him in those high areas, that high one-time pass and Chris has converted several times.”
Crosby, Kunitz’s longtime linemate, said part of their line’s recent production is the result of knowing each other so well and their similar mindsets.
“Every night as a centerman you know he’s going to be physical, create loose pucks, be around the net,” Crosby said. “It’s much easier to read off of those plays when you know where a guy will be. The more you play with a guy, you know what to expect. Kunitz is pretty easy to read. He’s up and down the wing, goes hard to the net, in on the forecheck.
“We like to attack. We have that same mentality. When there’s openings or open ice, we both know we’re going for it.”
Like a true teammate, Kunitz likes to give the credit for his scoring boom to playing alongside the best player in the NHL.
“’Sid’ draws a lot of attention to him,” Kunitz said. “It’s getting behind guys and finding areas, we’ve scored a couple third-man high goals when people turn and focus on him.
“I attribute all or most of my success to playing with him.”
And while Kunitz enjoys seeing his name among Crosby, Stamkos, Vanek and Carter, he is much more interested in getting two points for his team than himself.
“It’s rewarding and nice to get some wins,” Kunitz said. “(Winning) feels better than points.”