TORONTO -- It's not that Chris Kunitz, who is assembling one of his best seasons, doesn't appreciate leading the NHL in any statistical category. It's just that the Penguins left winger doesn't feel all that strongly about the plus-minus rating.
Kunitz entered the game Saturday night at Toronto tied for the league lead at plus-17 in the category that awards a plus when a player is on the ice for an even-strength or short-handed goal and a minus when he is on the ice for an even-strength or short-handed opponent goal.
"It certainly tells you that you're on the ice for offensive chances," Kunitz said of his high number.
Many see it as a way to judge defensemen more than forwards. Kunitz isn't drawn to that column when perusing the stats of any player.
"For a certain amount of games, you can run into bad luck," Kunitz said of stretches when a player might rack up several minuses.
Kunitz figures playing alongside center Sidney Crosby helps his plus-minus. Crosby entered Saturday as the NHL leader in points with Kunitz tied for third.
"Being able to play with Sid, we don't spend too much time in our own zone. That's something to hang your hat on," Kunitz said.
"But, wherever the [plus-minus] number is, you just don't want to take a step backward. You just want to make sure it keeps going up and doesn't fall backward."
Islanders short on bench
The New York Islanders will be short a body on their bench when they play the Penguins tonight at Consol Energy Center, but it won't be a player.
Assistant coach Brent Thompson will serve the second game of a two-game suspension issued Friday by the NHL. He was assessed a game misconduct Thursday for comments aimed at the officials after a 2-1 overtime loss against the New York Rangers.
Thompson served the first game Saturday, when the Islanders beat Washington, 5-2.
Van Riemsdyk's presence felt
Winger James van Riemsdyk learned to enjoy playing against the Penguins when he was with Philadelphia. In his first game against the Penguins in a Maple Leafs uniform, he had two goals and an assist as Toronto spoiled the Penguin's home opener, 5-2, Jan. 23.
"Those were always fun games to play, Philly and the Penguins," van Riemsdyk said.
"I think even now it's a good measuring-stick game. They've always got one of the better teams in the league. It's usually a fast-paced game, and I like playing in games like that."
Van Riemsdyk entered Saturday as the Maple Leafs' leader in goals (13) and was third on the team with 19 points in 25 games in his first season with Toronto.
But the Penguins-Flyers matchups represent one of the top rivalries in hockey?
"I'd say it's one of the best in sports, period," van Riemsdyk said.
"It's awesome. It's fun. Every game over the last couple of years, it seems like one team gets the lead and the other team comes storming back."
A special night
Any Canadian knows what having a Saturday night game at Air Canada Centre means: a national appearance in this country on the popular "Hockey Night in Canada."
Even those from other countries understand the popularity of being a part of these games.
"It's always a boost to come here and play Saturday night, 'Hockey Night in Canada,'" Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
"It's not even just for Canadian guys. I'm American born and raised, and I get excited about the opportunity."
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. First Published March 10, 2013 5:00 AM