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Kunitz Gets His Groove Back

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Lady Luck has not been kind to Chris Kunitz over the past two seasons in terms of injuries.

He missed 13-straight games from Feb. 8 to March 5 after missing a combined 28 contests in the 2009-10 campaign, his first full season in a Penguins uniform after being acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline in March of 2009.

It’s been “really frustrating” for Kunitz to have to deal with being out of the lineup for extended stretches of time over the past two seasons – especially since he is an absolutely vital component of the Penguins’ success when he is healthy.

Pittsburgh has won the last eight games Kunitz has scored and the past 10 games he has recorded a point, and he brings that spark that seems to give the lineup a boost every time he hits the ice.

“He’s one of our best players,” forward Craig Adams said. “I think he’s the guy you can rely on to be consistent all the time and you know the kind of game he’s going to bring. He’s going to be tenacious and physical and he can score when he gets the chance. So he’s definitely an important player for us and we’re a better team with him, for sure, in the lineup than without.”

Linemate Jordan Staal agreed, saying “He’s definitely a player we look to to try and turn a game around if we’re heading in the wrong direction.”

Injuries are the uncontrollable aspect of being a professional athlete. What Kunitz says he has done to help him deal with them over the past two seasons is to accept that they’re going to happen and do whatever he can to contribute upon his return – including trying to improve upon parts of the game he has noticed could use some polishing.

He’s certainly done that upon his recent return, as Kunitz tallied a pair of goals in his third game back on March 13 in a 5-1 win versus Edmonton, including one on the power play.

He then followed that performance with three assists on Tuesday in a 5-1 victory over Ottawa.

“’Kunie’ was out for a while and he had to get his legs under him and start feeling comfortable,” Staal said. “And he’s obviously starting to get back to the way he can play and the way he was before he was hurt.”

What makes Kunitz so valuable is that he is the quintessential all-around player. Not only does he bring a physical edge (127 hits this year), a net-front presence (especially on the power play) and veteran leadership to the locker room, but he can score goals as well – and he does it consistently.

He has reached the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in the past six seasons and has 34 points (17G-17A) over his past 41 games, an average of 0.83 points-per-game.

“Just his consistency, the way he’s played over a long stretch of time is obviously something all players strive for,” rookie forward Dustin Jeffrey said. “And I think the way he carries himself day in and day out, it’s something that you can really model what you want to do after.”

Kunitz is quickly gaining his confidence back, which Adams said will be crucial for the Penguins in their last 11 regular-season games.

“It would have been interesting to see without the injuries and stuff what kind of numbers he could put up,” Adams said. “But we want him hot from here on out.”
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