By: Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82)
Last Game for the Penguins: Monday, a 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The game started off with injuries to Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby, Matt Niskanen, and a referee. While all but Dupuis would return, the loss of players caused the Penguins to struggle to find any sort of rhythm in the first period. Ottawa got goals from Zack Smith and Bobby Ryan in the first two periods. The dam broke in the third period with goals from Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and Cory Conacher. Marc-Andre Fleury was on for all five goals against, facing 29 shots in the process. Craig Anderson saw 27 shots for Ottawa.
Last Game for the Hurricanes: Monday, a 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Artem Anisimov opened up scoring for the Blue Jackets midway through the first period. Jeff Skinner scored on the power play with just over a minute remaining in the period to tie the game. Corey Tropp scored at 15:39 of the second period to put Columbus back ahead, but Skinner answered again on the power play less than a minute later. Alexander Semin put the Hurricanes ahead at 9:06 of the third period, but Ryan Johansen and Jack Skille would both score to put the game away for Columbus. Justin Peters faced 25 shots while Mike McKenna faced 33 for Columbus.
Last Time These Two Teams Met: October 28, 2013, a 3-1 win for the Penguins. Tanner Glass opened up scoring for the Penguins at 8:25 of the first period off of assists from Jayson Megna and Brooks Orpik. Nathan Gerbe tied the game with less than four minutes remaining in the period. Chris Kunitz would score the eventual game-winning goal at 16:24 of the second period. Megna would later get the first goal of his career at 7:11 of the third period. Marc-Andre Fleury faced only 21 while Justin Peters faced 29 for the Hurricanes.
Last 10 Games for the Penguins: 8-2.
Last 10 Games for the Hurricanes: 4-3-3.
Story of the Game: Chris Kunitz has been mentioned as a possible linemate for Sidney Crosby for the2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia since he got invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp during the summer. Despite his success on Pittsburgh’s top line, and his ability to be a consistent 20 goal scorer his whole career, there is still some doubt whether Kunitz will get the final call from Steve Yzerman.
In his last four years with the Penguins, Kunitz has scored 91 goals in 235 games. During last year’s shortened season, Kunitz had a breakout year at the age of 33 by becoming a point-per-game player for the first time in his career. His 52 points (22g-30a) in 48 games put him on pace for a career-high 88 points. He’s continuing on that path this season with 39 points in 39 games. He’s already reached the 20 goal mark, putting himself on pace for 42 tallies, shattering his previous career-high of 26 goals set in the 2011-12 season.
While many will say that Kunitz owes much of his success to Sidney Crosby, it’s important to remember that Crosby has played in only 138 of the possible 251 games in the past four years. Crosby and Kunitz have built a tremendous chemistry together, but Kunitz has also performed well without Crosby as his center. When Crosby went down with a concussion in 2011, Kunitz still managed to produce 20 points in 27 games despite playing a large portion of those games with Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu. In the 2011-12 season, the line of Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal combined for 96 even strength points.
Chris Kunitz not only deserves his last shot at Olympic glory alongside Sidney Crosby, he’s earned it on his own merit.
Penguins All-Time Record Against the Hurricanes: 61-50-11-5.
Player to Watch on the Penguins: Chris Kunitz has 11 points (6g-5a) in his last 10 games.
Player to Watch on the Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner has 10 goals in his last 10 games.