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Kunitz Making Bid for Top Line

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby
wasn’t the only player who showed chemistry with Phil Kessel on Tuesday against Carolina.

Chris Kunitz quietly had a big game on the left wing alongside those two, earning the first of two assists when Kessel converted his one-touch pass across the slot. Shortly after that, Kunitz hit Kessel with a feed just inside the blue line – where he carried in and rang one off the post.

While Kunitz knows that coveted spot alongside two of the best players in the game isn’t necessarily going to be handed to him despite his history with the Pens captain, he certainly made a strong case for himself in his first opportunity to skate on their line.

“We had a couple shifts where we sprung guys for almost partial breakaways to breakaways with his speed,” Kunitz said. “I think that’s something where Sid opens up space for guys and you have to watch out for his speed. Then you have Phil on the outside that has that lightning-quick release and the ability to split the D too.

“So I think (chemistry) is something we’re working at. Obviously nothing’s set in stone, but any time you can go out and get some points and feel comfortable, it helps you in that process.”

During training camp practices, Kunitz is in the process of getting his game shape back after an offseason that lasted about five months.

“I think you take the objective of going out to work hard, get your legs up to speed,” Kunitz said. “I think that’s the first thing you want to do, and hopefully the skills and the hands and the chemistry comes after that. I think the drills that they’re putting us through is trying to push the pace, trying to get you uncomfortable to get you better for games.”

Looking ahead, Kunitz is looking to rebound from a disappointing second half of the season where he finished with just one goal in his last 21 games and two in his last 33.

“You look back, you try to change things, but you’ve got to go forward,” said Kunitz, a seven-time 20-goal scorer who had a career-high 36 goals and 68 points just two seasons ago. “You’ve got to try and push to the goals that you want to have and always have a team goal of going to win the Stanley Cup. That’s why you come out and work so hard every day.

“That being said, if you’re not helping your team individually, you can’t really achieve those goals as a team. You’ve got to go out and do the things you’re supposed to do to be able to do your job 100 percent every single night and that’s something that I look to do this year.”

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