Penguins Notebook: Kunitz fits on top power play


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Penguins coach Dan Bylsma isn't ready to declare the competition closed.

He won't proclaim that Chris Kunitz has won the battle for a place on the No. 1 power-play because of the net-front presence he has been providing.

But it's no coincidence that the power play has been most effective when Kunitz has been working in and around the other team's crease.

That point was reinforced on the Penguins' fourth goal of their 5-1 victory in Philadelphia Saturday night, when Kunitz was stationed directly in front of Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as a Sidney Crosby slap shot from the top of the slot was beating him low on the right side.

"We think it's imperative that we have a guy there," Bylsma said. "It was a challenge for the handful of guys to see who would earn that spot and get that time, and there's no question right now that [Kunitz] is the guy who's standing there.

"He's taken some shots and he's got some bruises, but that's been a big part, especially of [Saturday night's] success."

Kovalev calm despite struggles

Scouting report

Matchup: Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

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

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Brian Elliott for Senators.

Penguins: Are 1-3 at home, outscored by 12-9. ... Rookie Mark Letestu has two of team's three winning goals. ... Sidney Crosby has five points over the past three games after getting one point over the first three.

Senators: Are 0-2-1 on road, outscored by 12-6. ... Jason Spezza ranked fifth in faceoff percentage (64.1), and team was fifth (54 percent), through Sunday. ... Generating 26.6 shots a game, among NHL's lowest.

Of note: Top seven scorers for Ottawa are forwards; two of top three scorers for Penguins are defensemen.


Ottawa winger Alex Kovalev, the former Penguin who is one of the great pure talents in recent NHL history, does not have a point in his first five games this season, despite averaging nearly 15 1/2 minutes of ice time per game.

Although Kovalev, 37, no longer is the force he once was and acknowledged being concerned about his lack of production so far, he isn't ready to panic over his early season struggles, either.

"I'm not the only one who's struggling around the league, so I'm not really too frustrated." Kovalev told the Ottawa Citizen. "Because eventually the points will come, and the puck will start going in."

Letestu's stock rises

Six games into the season, Mark Letestu has more winning goals than Crosby.

And Evgeni Malkin. And Mike Comrie. And Alex Goligoski.

Combined.

Letestu has, in fact, accounted for two of the Penguins' three winners, and the one he scored in Philadelphia late in the second period Saturday reflected the evolution of his game in the past few years.

Letestu, showing no regard for his well-being, plunged into a scrum in the slot and chipped the puck past Bobrovsky to break a 1-1 tie.

"Mark is a guy who I would have probably criticized [in the past] for not winning battles and being strong on the puck," Bylsma said.

"That second goal, he's in there with a couple of big, big hockey players and they're fighting for a loose puck, and he's the guy who wins the battle and gets a big goal for us.

"He's done that in the defensive zone. He's done that in the offensive zone. He's a smart player, but he's got a little bite in his puck battle and on the puck, and it's paying off for him."

No love for Lovejoy

It has been about five years since former Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock famously accused Crosby of being a diver, a charge Crosby bashers across the continent were quick to embrace.

Now, Flyers captain Mike Richards has accused another Penguins player of exaggerating the impact of something that was done to him on the ice.

This time, the charge was directed at, uh, defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who Richards was penalized for slashing in the third period Saturday.

In an interview transcript provided by the Flyers' media-relations staff, Richards was quoted as saying this about Lovejoy and the incident in question:

"Well, it's tough when you play Pittsburgh, they are going to be falling down pretty easy. You've got to be able to watch your stick, and my stick was in there, and maybe I did go at him a little aggressive, but he did flop pretty easy there, so it's tough."

Tip-ins

Bylsma gave the Penguins Sunday off. ... Goligoski has at least one point in each of the Penguins' first six games.


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


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