Crosby scores 1,000th career point on 1st-period assist vs. Jets
It was 11 days short of being exactly eight years since Chris Kunitz was acquired by the Penguins, and just another week or so less since Kunitz took his first shift as the left wing for Sidney Crosby.
So when Kunitz meandered his way into the slot early during the first period Thursday night, he had about 400 games and likely well more than 5,000 shifts of experience playing alongside Crosby. Enough to know that no matter how well Jacob Trouba had Kunitz tied up — the Winnipeg Jets' defenseman had strong position on him — Trouba was bound to remove his stick from Kunitz's legs at some point.
After all, Crosby was pursuing a loose puck in the left wing circle.
“(Opponents) have their eyes focused on him at all times,” Kunitz said of Crosby. “And when people slide toward him, he knows to go to that open player.”
Thursday, that open player was Kunitz. And he was open because Trouba, just for a split second, turned his attention — and his body — toward Crosby and away from his man.
That was all Crosby needed to earn the 1,000th point of his NHL career.
It came on a play that was vintage Crosby — and by way of his most vintage active winger.
Crosby beat Blake Wheeler to a puck in the left-wing faceoff circle, turned to his forehand with his back to the boards and fed an open Kunitz in the slot for a one-timer that beat Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck 6 minutes and 28 seconds into a 4-3 overtime victory.
Crosby became the 86th player to reach 1,000 points, the eighth who's active, the sixth to do so in a Penguins uniform and the 12th fastest.
“I was kind of going after a loose puck,” Crosby said of the milestone play. “I got it on my stick and turned. Kuny was there. I could tell he was ready to shoot it — he was backing up. He's scored a lot from that area over the years. It's just kind of typical play for him to find that seam and bury it.”
If anyone knows what's a typical play for Kunitz, it's Crobsy — 185 of Kunitz's 576 NHL points have involved Crosby on the scoresheet. The 37-year-old has skated more shifts on Crosby's wing than anybody, flanking him regularly — though not always — dating to Kunitz's acquisition via trade in February 2009.
“At this point, you're just looking to get it,” said Crosby, who'd reached 997 points 12 days prior. “But it's funny the way things work out. ‘Kuny' has been probably the guy I play with the most over my time here.”
Crosby reached 1,000 points faster than any active player — in 757 games (over 11 seasons). Since Crosby came into the league almost 12 years ago, only Alex Ovechkin (1,017) has more points than Crosby; no one has more points per game (1.32) among active players since 2005-06 than Crosby.
Less than six months shy of his 30th birthday, Crosby joined mentor and team owner Mario Lemiuex as the only players with more than 1,000 NHL points to get them all with the Penguins, though Jaromir Jagr reached 1,000 exclusively as a Penguins player but since has played for seven other teams.
To have Kunitz tell it, the only thing more fitting than Kunitz being the recipient of the milestone pass is that it was one that set him up open in the slot.
In such situations, how often does Kunitz expect Crosby to deliver the puck?
“Almost 100 percent of the time,” he said. “He knows where everybody is on the ice, so when you can slide off and make space, he's going to look for that person that's coming toward him and slide it to that guy by him.
“He puts in right in your wheelhouse to fire it on net.”