After Friday’s morning skate, forward Chris Kunitz said the Penguins’ power play had to focus on getting themselves in good positions to score.
Fast-forward to Friday night, and Kunitz took matters into his own hands – getting to those areas often and getting rewarded.
Kunitz netted two power-play goals in the opening period and helped lead the Penguins to a 4–3 victory over their Metropolitan Division rival New York Islanders. His five power-play goals rank first on the team.
Kunitz’s first goal was reminiscent of the power-play goal Crosby scored on Wednesday night in Washington, with a series of tape-to-tape passes leading to an opening for the shooter to find the back of the net.
Evgeni Malkin, the league leader in assists for the month of November with 13, began the passing sequence on Kunitz’s first marker. Malkin threw a pass through the middle of the Isles’ PK unit to Crosby, who was alone at the top of the right circle.
With all of the Islanders staring at No. 87 waiting for his next move, Crosby executed the perfect shot pass to Kunitz – who perfectly re-directed the puck past New York goaltender Kevin Poulin.
“There were a few great passes, I was just the beneficiary of being in the right spot,” Kunitz said. “We hunted pucks well, got on the power play early and got ourselves a lead. It was important to get that momentum.“
The tally gave the Penguins the always-important first goal of the game. Pittsburgh is now 12-1 when scoring first this season, compared to just 3-7 when the opponent gets on the board first. In addition, the Penguins are also now a perfect 8-0 when leading after the first 20 minutes.
Just under four minutes later with the Penguins back on the power play, Kunitz was at it again.
A superb back-checking effort by Malkin on a puck that bounced over the blue line prevented an Islanders scoring chance and led to an odd-man rush for Pittsburgh.
A Paul Martin outlet pass found James Neal streaking up the left wing with Crosby driving down the center of the ice and carrying with him the second Islander defender, opening up plenty of ice for Kunitz to get in shooting position.
Kunitz received the pass from the Neal at the top of the right circle and delivered a rocket of a one-timer, giving Poulin no chance to slide over and stop a shot that was wired for the top shelf.
Kunitz’s two first-period goals may have come against a New York penalty-killing unit that is ranked dead last in the league, but he said again after the game it was all about the Pens creating the quality chances to score goals.
It looked as if the natural hat trick was complete with just over one minute to go in the first period, as Kunitz slid the puck underneath the pads of Poulin to give the Pens what appeared to be a 3-0 lead. But the goal was waved off due to an Evgeni Malkin being called for a high-sticking penalty just prior to the shot coming off Kunitz’s blade.
The fans in attendance, many of whom had already tossed their caps onto the ice in celebration of what they thought was a hat trick, roared their displeasure with the referees' call. But Kunitz said regardless of the goal being called off, contributing to the win in both even-strength and power-play situations are good signs moving forward.
“We have a couple lines that are going right now and carrying our offense,” Kunitz said. “Our goaltenders are playing great and we are just trying to build in to getting more wins.”