Kunitz, Crosby feed off one another
Chris Kunitz will never skate with Marian Hossa's grace, will never showcase a release like Bill Guerin's and will probably never see the ice quite like Mark Recchi.
But he might be the best linemate Sidney Crosby has ever had.
The Penguins' captain is riding a 13-game scoring streak into tonight's game against Atlanta at Consol Energy Center, and part of his success can be attributed to the terrific play of Kunitz, his wing man of almost two years.
Kunitz has always been a streaky scorer yet consistently brings out the best in Crosby.
The duo clearly enjoys sharing the ice.
"He's a complete player," Crosby said. "He's pretty solid all the way around."
There is nothing fancy about Kuntiz's game, which seems perfectly suited to playing on Crosby's wing. While Crosby is indisputably the world's best overall player, and his skill is unquestioned, there is an efficiency about his game that seems to nicely complement Kunitz's north-south style.
"I just try to keep things simple," Kunitz said. "I go to the net and get pucks. I try to get him the puck when he's going with speed. Just the little things."
Crosby historically has success with linemates who play a simple game and crash the net, making it little wonder why he enjoys playing with Kunitz. While coach Dan Bylsma has been known to juggle his line combinations with frequency, Kunitz almost never leaves Crosby's left wing.
"He's consistently bringing it," Crosby said.
Crosby is on fire recently, having produced 26 points during his 13-game scoring streak. Kunitz has certainly played a role in the streak. He has five goals of his own during the last 13 games and made a beautiful feed on the first of Crosby's three goals against Calgary last Saturday.
While he isn't a sniper, Kunitz is a good passer, especially in the neutral zone. He made the pass that sprung Max Talbot on a 2-on-1 that resulted in his second goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. Those nifty neutral-zone passes are a trademark of Kunitz's game and one of the big reasons why he and Crosby thrive together.
"I try to get Sid the puck with speed," Kunitz said. "That's always one of the main goals with him, to get him the puck in those situations."
Crosby has definitely become a better goal scorer with Kunitz by his side. A cynic would suggest Crosby has become more of a sniper out of necessity because his linemates aren't natural goal scorers, and while there may be truth to this, Kunitz's ability to find Crosby has been helpful.
"He's able to see the ice real well," Crosby said.
While Crosby has scored in 13 straight games, Kunitz has a streak of his own. The left wing has been credited with at least one hit in every game this season. During Crosby's scoring streak, Kunitz has been credited with delivering 29 hits. He has produced 66 hits this season, good for 16th in the league.
Of course, Kunitz doesn't just hit players, but often flattens them.
"He's somebody you always have to keep an eye on," Crosby said. "Whoever has the puck always has to look over their shoulder."
Kunitz has been forced to make adjustments playing with Crosby. He is playing almost 19 minutes per game this season, well more than his career average.
Kunitz, though, doesn't mind the extra work. He is finally healthy after battling an abdominal injury most of last season and has found a chemistry with Crosby that exceeds even what they shared during the '09 Stanley Cup run.
"We just all compete so hard," said Pascal Dupuis, the other man on the top line. "Me and (Kunitz) never give up on plays. We track pucks. We create turnovers. All of us feel good right now."Additional Information:
By the numbers
Chris Kunitz's season numbers:
26 games, 7 goals, 6 assists, 13 points, +2, 66 hits
Kunitz during Sidney Crosby's 13-game point streak:
13 games, 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 points, +5, 29 hits