Penguins Notebook: Short-handed effort by Kunitz wasted


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At the time, Chris Kunitz's shift as a penalty killer several minutes into the third period Sunday seemed like it might be the story of the Penguins' game against the New York Rangers.

After Penguins winger Matt Cooke left his team short-handed for five minutes for elbowing New York's Ryan McDonagh with the score tied, 1-1, Kunitz was a madman in the neutral zone.

He pursued. He pressured. He skated furiously. Eventually, he took the puck from New York's Mats Zuccarello, carried it across the blue line and into the right circle, and launched a shot that ticked off of defenseman Dan Girardi and knuckled past the right shoulder of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at 6:26 for the Penguins' first and only lead, 2-1.

"I thought the momentum was going to help us out. We needed to get some emotion," Kunitz said later, after the Rangers made the most of what became an extended power play en route to a 5-2 New York victory at Consol Energy Center.

New York -- which won all three road games in the season series and overcame a third-period deficit each time -- scored during an ensuing two-man advantage and then 11 seconds later on a five-on-four power play to steal the momentum back after Kunitz's effort.

"I thought we were sitting pretty for a while there," Penguins center Jordan Staal said of Kunitz's 21st goal, which came 1:50 into Cooke's major penalty.

"We got a huge momentum boost, creating the turnover and getting the goal," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Huge for our team. Huge play by Chris and a big effort getting us the goal."

They also have problems

Staal said playing Detroit still has some tingle effect even if the clubs don't cross conference lines to meet often in the regular season. The teams, which meet tonight at Joe Louis Arena, played in the Stanley Cup final in 2008 and '09 with a split.

"It would have been nice to get two points [Sunday] and roll into Detroit feeling good about ourselves," Staal said.

The Red Wings aren't without their own problems.

General manager Ken Holland told Booth Newspapers that Detroit expects to go with just 11 forwards and dress seven defensemen against the Penguins because of injuries and a lack of salary cap room to recall anyone.

Three of the Red Wings better forwards -- Pavel Datsyuk (undisclosed injury), Johan Franzen (groin) and Jiri Hudler (undisclosed) -- probably won't play tonight, Holland said.

Taxi squad?

Winger Eric Tangradi, one of four Penguins who has had a concussion this season, has been cleared for full participation in practice and was one of six players who skated early Sunday.

However, practice is getting crowded at forward with those who are recovering from injuries or who are healthy scratches, so the Penguins might get a jump on a scenario common during the playoffs by forming a taxi squad that can practice separately.

"If it's a full practice and the team's only going to go 30 minutes, then it will be the 13 or 14 or so forwards that are in consideration to play," Bylsma said.

The others who skated in the morning were forwards Sidney Crosby (concussion), Mark Letestu (believed to be shoulder, skated without gear), Nick Johnson (concussion) and Eric Godard (healthy scratch) and defenseman Brooks Orpik (finger).

Forward Arron Asham, who had a concussion, was taken off injured reserve, but Bylsma opted to dress Chris Conner and scratch Asham.

Crosby update

Bylsma offered this update on Crosby, who has been out since Jan. 6:

"He's in the early stages of getting back on the ice. He's kind of going week to week, day to day -- more day to day than anything. He has exercises both on and off the ice. Sometimes he does not go on the ice, but he's working out off the ice. It's kind of a very slow progression, and certainly no timetable for when he's going to return to a higher level of exercise."

Body injury

Rangers coach John Tortorella made a surprise announcement before the game that All-Star defenseman Marc Staal would sit out.

Asked about the injury, Tortorella said, "None of your business. Undisclosed. ... We've been pretty fair with you guys, but as we get closer to the playoffs teams tend to target and stuff like that, so any injury is going to be a body injury. Not lower. Not upper. It's going to be a body injury."


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: shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721


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