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Penguins' wings create scoring opportunities

| Friday, Feb. 12, 2010

Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz won't be confused with Marian Hossa anytime soon, their styles being polar opposites.

While Hossa might have more talent, he possesses two fewer Stanley Cup rings. Kunitz also has something else over Hossa.

It could be purely coincidental, but Sidney Crosby never become a great goal scorer until he had Kunitz on his left wing.

"They brought me here for a reason," Kunitz said. "I can't really change my game. I'm a straight-forward guy. But Sid is the kind of guy who can adapt."

A cynic might suggest that Crosby has been forced to become more of a goal scorer because the chronically streaky Kunitz has been in a funk most of the season. Many of the Penguins, however, will argue that Kunitz's work away from the puck has helped Crosby become a deadly scorer.

The Penguins' captain will reach a career-high of 40 goals should he score tonight against the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena.

"Giving Sid some room on the ice is an important thing," Kunitz said. "That's what I try to do. I want to forecheck and open things up for him. If you can do that, you give him a chance to work his magic."

Crosby has a history of playing better with wingers who play a simple game. He and Hossa played well together but probably produced points because of their combined level of talent more than any chemistry they developed.

Crosby has often been most productive when skating with players such as Colby Armstrong, whose game was more steady than flashy.

"I think Kuny does a great job playing with Sid," said left wing Pascal Dupuis, who has played portions of his Penguins career on a line with Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin. "Look at what he does. He just goes right to the net, and it works. He's like a little Hyundai out there."

There is no question that the Penguins wingers need to score more goals. Kunitz and Ruslan Fedotenko have only eight goals each.

If the wingers aren't going to score, opening shooting lanes for Crosby and Malkin becomes paramount.

"We all want to open up room for Sid and Geno," Fedotenko said. "But does it matter who scores the goals• As long as we're winning, that's what matters."

As the NHL trade deadline approaches, rumors will invariably swirl that Penguins GM Ray Shero is thinking about acquiring a winger. He did it last year with Bill Guerin and in 2008 with Hossa.

Whether Shero will land another talented winger is anyone's guess. The Toronto Maple Leafs sent a scout to Mellon Arena to watch Wednesday's Islanders game. Alexei Ponikarovsky, the skilled Toronto left wing, is believed to be on the trading block. The Penguins are only $700,000 under the salary cap, which means that bringing in a significant winger would likely cost them someone on the current roster.

Despite all the speculation that will build before next month's deadline, the current Penguins don't plan on changing their style.

"Guys like me and Kuny play with guys like Sid and Geno because the coaches think we can help them," Dupuis said. "We need to keep doing the work in the defensive zone so those guys don't have to use their energy there. I think we're doing pretty well."

Wingin' it

Sidney Crosby's goal production has varied with his wingers:

While playing on a line with Marian Hossa: 25 games, 8 goals (0.32 per game)

While playing on a line with Chris Kunitz: 73 games, 40 goals (0.55 per game)

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