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Kunitz Stepping Up His Game

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins currently sit at the top of the standings in the National Hockey League a 9-3-3 record (21 points) despite dealing with several injuries to key players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik.

The reason the Penguins have been able to overcome these injuries and still find success on the ice is due to other players throughout the lineup stepping up and contributing – whether it comes on the ice or off the ice.

One of those players is forward Chris Kunitz.

Kunitz, 32, has chipped in with eight points (5G-3A) in 15 games, but has four goals and five points in his last six games, not to mention a shootout-deciding score.

“He’s playing really well,” linemate Pascal Dupuis said. “He’s not only producing, but doing the little details of the game very well. He’s blocking shots, being physical, tracking pucks, creating turnovers. He’s been really good for us.”

“As long as you’re creating chances and feel comfortable out there, they might not always go in, but if you’re going to the right spots hopefully the puck will bounce off your stick and go in,” Kunitz said. “Our power-play has been successful. I’ve been out in front of the net, banging some rebounds home in the tough areas. That’s why you have to be there.”

Kunitz was clutch in the Penguins’ 3-2 shootout victory in Los Angeles Saturday night. He made a great play from behind the net, pulling the puck in front and lifting a backhand shot over the outstretched pad of Jonathan Quick to tie the game with 2:57 left in regulation.

Kunitz sealed the victory in the shootout, dekeing and then slipping the puck through Quick’s five-hole.

“Last game in particular is a lot of what Chris brings as a player, quick and physical, at the net, all around the net. He was jamming home rebounds. He was hunting down pucks,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s a tough guy to play against. He’s a nasty guy out there. It’s speed, it’s physicality, it’s also at the net. Him getting that goal capped off a night of him playing a solid game and got the opportunity in the shootout. It was nice to see him go to his move and get the win for us.”

But Kunitz’s contributions aren’t only felt on the scoresheet. Even though the Penguins are a veteran team, they’ve been missing a lot of the team’s leaders due to injuries: Crosby is the captain, while Malkin, Orpik and Jordan Staal are alternates. And Kunitz, who has worn an "A" this season, has done his part to shoulder some of that leadership in their absence.

“We have a veteran group so you don’t need to be a cheerleader in the locker room,” Kunitz said. “We need guys to play the right way and show guys this is the way we need to play. If things aren’t going our way we have to get back to the system. When we don’t play well there are guys that will say something to try and spark the team.”

“We’re missing our captain. A couple alternate captains went down, Orpik, Staal, Malkin, all the guys that are our leaders,” Dupuis said. “They’re out of the room. Some of the guys stepped up and he’s one of them.”

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