Kunitz's scoring slump not an issue for Penguins

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RALEIGH. N.C. -- Chris Kunitz does not have a goal in the Penguins' first six games this season.

He scored one -- count it, one -- in 24 playoffs games during their run to the Stanley Cup this spring.

He did not get any in his final five appearances of the 2008-09 regular season and had just one in his last 10.

That's one goal in his past 35 games and two in his past 40 as the Penguins prepare to face Carolina at 7:08 tonight at the RBC Center.


Game: Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes, 7:08 p.m. today, REC Center.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Cam Ward for Hurricanes.

Penguins: Have gone 1-4-1 in past six regular-season visits to RBC Center. ... RW Pascal Dupuis has four goals in 16 career games against Hurricanes. ... Need victory to complete 4-0 road trip.

Hurricanes: Are 10-5-1 in past 16 regular-season games against Penguins. ... Have allowed just two goals in past 17 short-handed situations. ... LW Jussi Jokinen has three-game points streak.

Hidden stat: Penguins C Jordan Staal has scored in three games in row, but does not have goal in 12 career regular-season games against Carolina.

That would be modest production for a guy who labors on a fourth line, let alone one who works alongside Sidney Crosby, one of hockey's finest playmakers.

In light of all that, the Penguins seem to have made a decision about what should be done with Kunitz.

Absolutely nothing.

Oh, his coaches and teammates want -- and expect -- him to find the net more often. It seems safe to assume that the coaching staff penciled him in for at least 20 goals, and likely more like 25 or 30, going into the season.

Heck, it's pretty clear that Kunitz counts on himself to score a lot more than he has.

"You have to put out to your offensive ability, score goals," he said.

But the bottom line is, well, the bottom line, and it has been awfully good for the Penguins since Kunitz was added to their personnel mix in the trade that sent defenseman Ryan Whitney to Anaheim Feb. 26.

They went 15-2-3 down the stretch after acquiring him, earned the franchise's third Stanley Cup in the months that followed and are off to a 5-1 start in 2009-10.

The Penguins likely would have been, and still would be, a better team if Kunitz were throwing in a goal every third or fourth game, but they're not bad as it is, which is why they have the luxury of allowing him to try to regain his scoring touch.

"We're winning, and we have some scoring coming from all over the place," said right winger Bill Guerin, who plays with Kunitz and Crosby. "So it's not important [for Kunitz to score] right now. He's doing other things that Sid and I don't."

Indeed, Kunitz is an aggressive and effective forechecker, plays bigger than his 6-foot, 193-pound body and doesn't balk at absorbing punishment to hover near the opponent's net.

If scoring goals was his sole, or even primary, duty on that line, Kunitz likely would have been replaced long ago. But because he does so much, and because his scoring problems are not costing the Penguins points, he apparently will get more time to start scoring again.

"He does a lot of other things that help," Crosby said. "Around the net, he's a guy who's willing to pay the price to give guys like me space.

"Everyone contributes and, obviously, it's great to score goals and he's a guy who has to score goals, for sure. But just because he goes a few games [without a goal] doesn't mean he's not contributing, because he does contribute a lot."

There's at least one other factor -- and it might be the biggest one -- that mitigates against removing Kunitz from his place with Crosby and Guerin: The Penguins don't have a replacement who would be a clearcut upgrade.

Now, if Eric Tangradi or Luca Caputi was ready for steady work at this level, Kunitz might be threatened if he didn't start chipping in some goals. As it is, though, none of the Penguins' other left wingers at the moment -- Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Cooke and Mike Rupp -- is a big-time finisher.

Although there is not an obvious threat to his position, Kunitz had been focusing on generating more shots and getting into scoring positions around the net.

"I'm not going to score pretty ones," he said. "Usually, it's the ones around the net, so I have to get to that area more often."

His linemates, for what it's worth, seem convinced that Kunitz will do whatever it takes. And appear to regard his goal-scoring drought as more of an oddity than a crisis.

"I don't think it's an issue right now," Guerin said. "I hope it's not for him, because he's playing well. And we're winning."

NOTES -- Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins and Carolina's Cam Ward are on the short list of goalies in contention for a place on Canada's Olympic team, but Fleury does not believe that will come into play tonight. "I don't think that, just because we're playing against each other, it's going to make a difference," he said. "It's just another game." ... Forward Craig Adams became the latest player to pick up the lunch tab for his teammates, paying for a catered post-practice spread featuring tacos in the locker room yesterday. Adams, however, disavowed responsibility for some of the items most popular with other players. "The cookies and the brownies were included," he said. "I didn't pick those."

For more on the Penguins, read the new Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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