Physical series suiting Penguins' Kunitz
PHILADELPHIA — Mr. Hit Parade has no interest in joining a long list of popular Penguins players known by their nicknames.
Nothing against "Lucky" Pierre Larouche, "The Doctor" Paul Coffey, Jean-Sebastien "Seabass" Aubin or Jordan "Gronk" Staal, but left wing Chris Kunitz simply doesn't believe his nickname, "Kuni," belongs with those.
It probably doesn't — and, as Staal suggested Monday, maybe it would make more sense to nickname Kunitz's hits.
There certainly have been enough of them through three games of the Penguins' opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers — a best-of-seven affair they lead, 2-1, with Game 4 tonight at Wachovia Center.
Kunitz has yet to score a goal and has just one assist, but he's become the breakout, uh, hit on a series that figured to star MVP-candidate teammates Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
"He's a pit bull," Crosby said of Kunitz, his linemate whom the Penguins acquired from Anaheim on Feb. 25. "Usually, he's either hitting or being hit. He plays the perfect game for the playoffs."
At 6-foot, 195 pounds, Kunitz rated sixth among forwards with 11 playoff hits before games played yesterday. He finished 12th with 207 during the regular season.
A role-playing Stanley Cup winner with Anaheim in 2007, he sent the traditionally fierce Flyers a thunderous message last week in Game 1 with his first-period crunching of defenseman Kimmo Timonen. At the time, that hit seemed as though it might prove Kunitz's signature stamp on the series.
By the first intermission of Game 3 on Sunday, it was clear Kunitz had decided to treat Timonen as his personal crash test dummy.
His first-period charge into Timonen in the last game so impressed Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell that he said yesterday, "I saw it on video, and I didn't think it was possible (Timonen) got up and finished the game."
Hartnell wasn't alone.
Staal, who caught the hit from his spot on the bench, called it "one of the best you'll ever see."
He also backed the idea of naming that hit "The Kunikaze."
Kunitz, a thoughtful, well-spoken and fun-natured recent first-time father, said his physical nature on the ice is no reflection of his personality.
"It's just the way I play hockey," he said. "I go in straight lines, want to finish checks and go to the net and puck retrieval. These types of things that coaches tell me is good for me to play my game — I just try to do that every night."
Penguins assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher's history with Kunitz dates to their days together with the Ducks. He managed the Ducks' AHL team in Cincinnati, where Kunitz played before becoming a fixture in Anaheim's lineup.
"Chris has always been a physical, competitive player, going back to college," Fletcher said. "That's what makes him so intriguing as a player.
"I think it's hard to make people aggressive. You either have it in you or you don't. He's just a naturally aggressive kid. He likes to play physical hockey. He likes to play in front of the net. And he likes to finish his checks. That's the way he's been since I've known him."
Crosby said he picked up those Kunitz traits during their first game together March 5 at Florida.
Left wing Matt Cooke, who faced Kunitz and the Ducks four times annually during his time with Vancouver, said he knew the Penguins were adding a nice kind of nasty when they acquired Kunitz for defenseman Ryan Whitney.
"He's a guy that plays with an edge," Cooke said. "You're seeing that a lot now. During the (regular season), he puts less focus on that physical play. But once you play that way, and it's a fun way to play, it never leaves you."
Kunitz has left an impression on the Flyers, whose coach, John Stevens, accused him of trying to hurt Timonen.
"You can tell that was for sure," Timonen said yesterday. "I don't really care. Hopefully, we can do the same thing to them (tonight)."
As Staal said, the Flyers will know where to find Kunitz.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Bennett a healthy scratch
- Stat dropoff, road struggles have Penguins seeking consistency
- Penguins finally break through, defeat Devils at Prudential Center
- Lapierre eager to make mark with Penguins
- Starkey: What are Penguins, Pirates up to?
- For Penguins coach Johnston, it’s a matter of substance over style
- Penguins get physical, trade Goc for Blues’ Lapierre
- Penguins’ Ehrhoff being tested for concussion
- Rossi: Crosby’s debt to NHL paid in full
- Crosby banned from Jets game because he missed All-Star Game
- Penguins notebook: Johnston pleased with Downie’s all-around play