Chris Kunitz says he will be ready to go for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1. That is good news for the Penguins chances against the President’s Trophy winner, Washington Capitals.
Kunitz says he plans on being ready for Game 1. #Pens
— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) April 24, 2017
Why is this good? Let’s skip past the nearly dogmatic criticism of Chris Kunitz, 37, unleashed by Penguins fans at the very mention of his name. Yes, Kunitz has struggled to finish chances, some glorious by nature. Nine goals in 71 games weren’t good enough–isn’t good enough–for a top line winger. Kunitz’ near allergic reaction to wide open nets and great scoring chances makes for a nice joke on Twitter, but in real life, he is creating those scoring chances with gritty wall play, speed and hockey instincts.
Kunitz is a valuable contributor. The Penguins practice, Monday, featured Kunitz slotting onto the fourth line, with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl. The trio works well together, using a blend of speed, grit, and defensive acumen. At worst, the line will not harm the Penguins. At best, the line will get the puck deep in the Capitals zone, pressure the Capitals defense and set the table for the top lines… and contribute a little bit of offense.
Fans would be wise to stop comparing Kunitz to the top line winger, Olympian he once was, and start seeing Kunitz for the versatile winger who brings more positives than negatives to the line-up. Tweets like this prove the point
@Budmoonshine Kunitz’s forecheck speed????? Is this 2013?
— Kemal Niksic (@vodeni71) April 24, 2017
The Penguins will sit Carter Rowney for Kunitz. Rowney was strong against Columbus in Round 1. Rowney’s physical play and simple game lent itself to the combat against the Blue Jackets. Washington will offer a different game. The Penguins will be able to win the forecheck battle. They have to win the forecheck battle to be successful in Round 2.
Kunitz is better suited to pressure the Capitals and adds a sprinkle of offense. The Penguins are getting healthier and quicker. That is not a good thing for the Capitals, which struggled against the fleet Maple Leafs.
Kunitz is back. And that’s a good thing for the Penguins.
By the way–make sure to follow a good reporter, Wes Crosby of NHL.com (tweet featured above).