When you talk about unlikely candidates to win a game — Chris Kunitz is it.
Pittsburgh Penguins 3 — Carolina Hurricanes 2, SOT
I mean, the guy hadn’t scored a goal yet this season while playing on the Penguins’ top line, he scored just one in the playoffs last year and, all told, had scored just one goal in his last 35 games.
Ironically, he also had this story published in the paper the day of the game, documenting his recent scoring troubles.
Well, all he did was step to the puck as the Penguins’ sixth shooter and potted home the game winner to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 overtime win and perfect 4-0-0 roadtrip to start the season. It also makes the Penguins 5-0 on the road to start the season since entering the NHL in 1967.
Kunitz is a different kind of player when compared to Sidney Crosby and Bill Guerin — he’s not the type of guy to snap a puck in to a small open space, performing what some like to call “surgery” on a goalie. He’s more of the guy that bangs along the boards and gets the puck free so guys like Crosby and Guerin can put it home.
He does more than most people realize and his stats — just three assists going in to last night’s game — can be alarming if you allow yourself to focus solely on them. The fact is, goals or no goals, he creates and is valuable on the first line — and he still has no goals.
Another guy that creates is Evgeni Malkin, and his performance last night was unbelievable.
Malkin is the type of player that will have you yelling at the TV because he makes a silly pass, but cheering five seconds later when he makes up for it. He did exactly that when he threw away the puck to the Carolina defense, only to get it right back and send a perfect tip pass along the boards to Mike Rupp who did the rest and faked out Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead.
It’s been impressing to see Rupp so far this year and see that he was decent speed and hands. He’s much more versatile than Eric Godard and past fourth liners the Penguins have had.
Rupp’s goal was also just another example of how the Penguins aren’t fazed within games. Carolina was feeding off the big hit — Tuomo Ruutu’s on Kris Letang in particular — and controlling the puck in the Penguins’ zone.
Malkin’s errant pass seemed like it was going to give the Canes another spell of time in the offensive zone. However, the Pens coolly regrouped and changed the momentum in one quick play.
Geno continued his career dominance over Ward with a goal at the 4:27 mark of the second period — a goal that ended up eerily traveling to the same spot as his wicked backhander from the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. 1:50 mark…glove side over the shoulder…
Carolina’s Ray Whitney put two behind Marc-Andre Fleury in the third period but he and the Penguins held off the surge to force overtime and eventually a shootout.
Fleury got some help on those goal posts he pets so much, which apparently can really pay off, and Kunitz decided not to go backhand (seemingly every other Penguin did) for the game winner.
Thus far, the Penguins have shown amazing composure and look like a team that can impose whatever it wants on whoever it wants in any game.
Chris | PPT