DETROIT — Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz was well aware that Mike Babcock was behind the Detroit bench Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.
The same Mike Babcock who in February will coach Team Canada at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The same Team Canada for which Kunitz hopes to play.
Nonetheless, Kunitz said he would not go out of his way to make an impression on Babcock when the Penguins faced the Red Wings. No more than he had in the Penguins’ previous game or their next one, anyway.
“I think you’re trying to audition every single night you’re out there,” Kunitz said. “You don’t want to have any bad games, you don’t want to have any bad breaks.
“You want to make sure you’re trying to play your game and trying to have the most success you can to help the Penguins win.
“I don’t think you’re going to play up for one game compared to another. You always want to put your best foot forward, show what you can do.”
Babcock offered a similar take on Kunitz, after volunteering that he “obviously is having a big year” for the Penguins.
“It’s no different than if I wasn’t coaching [Canada],” he said. “In order for [the Red Wings] to have success, we need to know who the good players on the other team are and the nuances of what they do.”
Kunitz, he said, is one of those players.
The game against Detroit completed the Penguins’ seventh set of games on consecutive days this season.
They had gone 3-3 on the back end in the previous six, and most players said they don’t significantly change their approach to a game just because it comes in the immediate aftermath of a previous one.
“You pretty much approach every game the same,” center Brandon Sutter said. “The biggest challenge in the back-to-back is just getting your body ready again, getting your rest, trying to recover in the 24 hours that you have until the [second] game.
“The challenge is more the mental part, not the physical part.”
The biggest hitter?
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall isn’t the most frequent hitter on the Red Wings roster, let alone in the NHL.
But there might not be anyone in the league capable of delivering more punishing checks than Kronwall.
He had been credited with just 23 hits in 31 games before facing the Penguins — no fewer than 11 teammates had more — but he might be the only player on the club, or in the NHL, whose name has been turned into a verb in recognition of his crushing hits.
Opponents who find that out the hard way are said to have been “Kronwalled.”
“He’s up there [among the game’s big hitters],” Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said. “He’s got really good timing.”
That’s not Kronwall’s only asset, however, even though his ability to play the body gets most of the attention.
“He’s also a really good defenseman,” Dupuis said. “He defends well. He has good offensive instincts. He jumps into the play. I think he’s pretty complete.”
Kronwall had three goals and 18 assists going into Saturday.
Washington winger Alex Ovechkin has 26 goals in 30 games, which means he has a shot at becoming the first NHL player to score 50 in 50 games since Brett Hull of St. Louis did it in 1991-92.
Not necessarily a good shot, however.
“It’s tough,” Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. “I’d say it’s really tough.
“I’d be surprised if someone does that, but [if anyone can do it], I think it would definitely be [Ovechkin]. The amount that he’s scored, even going back to last season, has been pretty incredible.
“Yes, it’s difficult, but the fact that he’s right around [that pace] is pretty impressive.”
Former Penguins center-turned-owner Mario Lemieux scored 50 goals in 46 games in 1988-89 and Wayne Gretzky of Edmonton set the NHL record when he got 50 in 39 games in 1981-82.