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Kunitz Rewarded for Hard Work

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Chris Kunitz had gone 21 hockey games, including the postseason, since he last scored a goal. He hadn’t scored since Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. Against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night Kunitz broke out in a huge way, scoring his first goal of the season and adding three assists in a 6-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Kunitz tied career highs with the three assists and four points, but it was the goal he scored against Carey Price on a power play with 3:29 left in the third period everyone wanted to talk about after the game.

“I better hit the net,” Kunitz joked when asked what he was thinking as he walked in all alone on the breakaway.

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“You really don’t think about too much. You try to see what the goalie is doing. If he is out a ways you want to move him back into the net and put it five-hole. It was one those things you do on a breakaway – try to score.”

Score was just what Kunitz did, forcing Price to spread his legs before depositing the puck through the exposed area for his first score of the season.

As happy as Kunitz was to get the monkey off his back, his teammates were probably even more so.

“I think the whole building was thrilled for him,” linemate Bill Guerin said. “He works hard every night … Tonight was nice for him. We’re all happy for him.”

“To get one, all alone on a breakaway like that and make a great move, he’s very deserving of it,” captain Sidney Crosby added. “It’s a great way to cap off a big night for him.”

Despite not having a goal entering the evening – he did have five assists, including an earlier stretch where he tied a career high by recorded assists in four-straight games (Oct. 8-15) – Kunitz was happy with the way his overall play was evolving after what he described was a tough start.

“I struggled maybe the first five or six games,” Kunitz said. “I didn’t feel I was in a mold or doing my job yet. I tried to work around that – go to the net, be physical and get loose pucks. I didn’t get rewarded with a goal but you still work hard every night trying to do the small things and help your linemates.”

Crosby echoed the sentiments of Kunitz by agreeing that the winger was just waiting for his breakout performance.

“There’s a lot of things that go on during a game that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Crosby said. “But definitely in Kunitz’s case he’s been doing some great things the last few games. It’s finally kind of opened up for him her tonight.”

Kunitz certainly opened the night for the Penguins by starting the team’s first scoring sequence by creating a turnover.

He got his stick on a Montreal clearing pass near the top of the offensive zone then beat three Canadiens to the loose puck before sending a pass ahead to Guerin, who set up Crosby for the opening score.

Kunitz credited a tactical change the line made before the game as the reason the line was able to often times force turnovers such as that one in the offensive end.

“We think we created more turnovers because we weren’t keeping that third man so high. We were kind of bouncing and jumping forward on opportunities – getting pucks to guys that were open and capitalizing when we had a chance to put the puck in the net.”

Everybody else was gushing about the 10 points Kunitz, Crosby and Guerin generated as a line and head coach Dan Bylsma was plenty pleased with the effort they provided.

“All three of them have tenacity and battle level in their game that makes them good players and they used that tonight,” Bylsma said.

“(Kunitz) got rewarded with the points but it was a tenacious game, a grit game creating turnovers. Then he made good plays with the puck after he created time and space with his tenacity and with his checking. That’s Chris Kunitz’s game. That’s what he brings to that line.”

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