April 13, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) shoots and scores against Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) during the second period in game two of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals at CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Interesting Note: Kunitz set, or tied, career highs in goals (26), assists (35), points (61) in his NHL career and was given a contract extension mid-season for the same $3.725 million cap hit for two more years, that schedules to keep him as a Pittsburgh Penguin through the 2013-14 season.
The Good: Riding third wheel with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on the best line in the league, Kunitz had himself a career year in all the boxcar stats, which probably can’t be too hard when your two regular linemates combine for 90 goals and 160 points on the year. Still, Kunitz did a lot of the intangible things like opening up room for everyone, winning board battles, digging pucks out of corners, forechecking effectively, screening the goalie, taking up space in front of the net and so on.
The Bad: Despite playing a total of 288:55 minutes on the PP (3rd on the team for the year behind Malkin and Neal) Kunitz, in his net-front role "only" tallied 18 points (6g, 12a) compared to 34 and 30 points on the year for Geno and Neal on the man-advantage, respectively. Also, for a first line forward he had significant dry stretches, scoring only one goal in the first 9 games of the season and had a stretch of just two goals in 20 games from December 23rd to February 7th.
Moment to Remember: February 11, 2012, vs Winnipeg Jets, in one of the craziest and most wide-open games of the season, the Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first and the Pens rallied back with goals from Dustin Jeffrey and Neal to tie it up. Kunitz gave the Pens a 3-2 edge with a goal. Kunitz would then assist on goals from Kris Letang and Malkin to make it 5-3 at the end of two periods. The game would be 7-5 Pens when Kunitz found Malkin who found Letang with 3 minutes left to salt the game away for the 8-5 win. The four points on the night would tie Kunitz’s career high in a game.
Moment to Forget: February 15, 2012, vs the Anaheim Ducks. Against his old team, Kunitz laid an egg on this one. With the Pens up 1-0, Kunitz would be on the ice for the only two goals the Ducks scored (one by Corey Perry, the other by Teemu Selanne) to send Anaheim on their way to a 2-1 win. Kunitz also took a slashing penalty with less than 3 minutes in the game that pretty much stopped any hopes of a comeback in its tracks.
Discussion: Chris Kunitz was seen as the default left wing for Sidney Crosby. But Crosby missed three quarters of the season and the Kunitz-Malkin-Neal line showed significant chemistry and results. Do you keep Kunitz with 71 and 18 next season? And should Kunitz automatically be on the top power-play, or would you like to see Jordan Staal or Eric Tangradi in front of the net?