Penguins get results reuniting Kunitz, Staal, Kennedy
Share with others:
The Penguins knew left winger Chris Kunitz had the skill set to play with all-world center Sidney Crosby, but, with Crosby out, the Penguins had to devise an alternative plan. They decided Kunitz also might fit with strong two-way center Jordan Staal and right winger Tyler Kennedy.
It worked. The line immediately produced points and played well at both ends.
That was more than two years ago, just after the Penguins acquired Kunitz from Anaheim.
"We always had that ongoing joke about when he first came to our team," Staal said Saturday after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe. "We went on that little roll for five games, and then Sid came back and that was it.
"We've been talking about that ever since."
Now, history is repeating.
Game: Penguins vs. Florida Panthers, 1:13 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), http://penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Tomas Vokoun for Panthers.
Penguins: Have won three games in row, all in shootouts. ... Are 5-3-1 in games that start before 5 p.m. ... Fleury has stopped 40 of 41 shots over past two games.
Panthers: Are 3-8-3 in past 14 games, 0-4-1 in past five road games. ... Are 0-1 in games that start before 5 p.m. ... Road power play, 11.5 percent, among NHL's worst.
Of note: Sergei Samsonov scored 4:01 into a 4-2 loss Friday at Buffalo, ending a scoring drought of 135:35 for Florida.
With a string of injuries to centers, including Crosby, who has been out since Jan. 6 because of a concussion, the Penguins have had to shuffle lines.
When Kunitz returned March 8 after missing a month because of an undisclosed injury, the Penguins decided to reunite them.
It has worked again, this time as the club's top line in the current configuration.
They mostly have played together the past eight games -- they get separated at times, such as when Staal was double-shifted some in the 1-0 shootout win Friday against New Jersey -- and likely will again today when the Florida Panthers visit Consol Energy Center.
In the eight games, Kunitz has four goals, nine points. Staal three goals, eight points. Kennedy three goals, seven points.
Kunitz, the senior of the trio at 31, is the interloper despite the noticeable chemistry.
Since those five games after Kunitz's acquisition, Staal and Kennedy have had a strong and successful history playing with suspended left winger Matt Cooke. Kunitz settled in alongside Crosby, most often with Pascal Dupuis on the right side.
Kunitz drives to the net and has established that as his power-play spot. He is physical (137 hits), and, with 22 goals, he is three shy of his career high of 25 set with the Ducks in 2006-07. He also has 23 assists and scored the winning shootout goal Thursday against the Flyers in Philadelphia..
Those qualities have helped him make what appears to be a seamless transition between Staal and Crosby as his centers.
"[Staal, Kennedy and I] had some chemistry early on, so it gives you confidence," Kunitz said.
"I don't really change my game. It just kind of maybe works well with both [Staal and Crosby].
"I have enough speed in my game to keep up with Sid, and also can be physical enough and work the puck down low with [Staal] and [Kennedy], win battles, and things like that.
Kennedy has seen only minor adjustments from Kunitz.
"He creates room for me and [Staal]," Kennedy said. "He's an all-around great player."
That's exactly what coach Dan Bylsma was hoping for when he penciled Kunitz in on that line again.
"I think he's really fit into the offensive zone game that they play, and he's been really good defensively. They've really taken on a big load in going against other teams' top lines and still been effective offensively," said Bylsma, who was on the job less than a month as interim coach when the Penguins got Kunitz and winger Eric Tangradi from the Ducks for defenseman Ryan Whitney.
Kunitz was projected as Crosby's linemate, but Crosby had a groin injury when Kunitz arrived.
The Kunitz-Staal-Kennedy line was thrown together 24 hours after the Feb. 26, 2009, trade and just as the Penguins were embarking on a five-game road trip. In the first game, Kunitz and Staal each had a goal and an assist and Kennedy an assist in a 5-4 overtime win at Chicago.
That began a 5-0 road trip, which sparked a tremendous stretch run and a playoff drive that didn't end until the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
At the end of that initial road trip, Kunitz took up residence alongside Crosby. He has 43 goals, 96 points in 130 games with the Penguins.
"He's not a hard player to get chemistry with," Staal said. "He's such a solid player, a smart player. He can play physical, and with the talent he has, he has the assets to play on whatever line he's put on or whatever role he's put in."
First Published March 27, 2011 12:00 am