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Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Kunitz Happy To Have Crosby Back

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins extended their winning streak to five games last night and made it look pretty easy in the process.

The New York Islanders controlled the play for about three minutes to start the game, but it was all downhill from there as the Penguins cruised to a 6-1 win.

This may have been the most complete performance the Penguins have put together this season. While the offense was certainly fun to watch, the Penguins were rock solid defensively.

They held the Islanders to 24 shots and the lone goal against was the direct result of some bad luck for Simon Despres.

If ever there was an example of “Penguins Hockey” that Dan Bylsma and Co. constantly refer to, last night was it. The Penguins were tying up sticks in the lanes, blocking shots, making quick outlet passes and anything else you could possibly ask of them.

It was rather refreshing to see some solid team defense after allowing at least three goals in each of the previous seven games.

However, we need to keep this in some perspective because it came against the Islanders. I’m not trying to take a shot at the team here. The Islanders are still very young and while they are improving in some regard, consistency is something they continue to struggle with.

The true test for the Penguins will come this week with games against the Bruins (2), Maple Leafs and Rangers.

You could essentially look at this week as a measuring stick. The Bruins are one of the stingiest teams in the league, so goals will be at a premium. Entering Monday’s NHL action, the Bruins have only allowed 48 goals in 22 games. Because of that, it might be a good idea to continue to be responsible in the defensive zone when they come to town on Tuesday.

Anyway, I think we can all agree that Chris Kunitz is having a season to remember right now. The only guy hotter than him is his linemate Sidney Crosby.

With five-point performances by both players last night, Kunitz (17 goals, 19 assists, 36 points) is now only one point behind Steven Stamkos for second overall in the NHL scoring race. Kunitz is also just two goals behind Stamkos for the league lead as well.

Let that sink in for a minute.

To put this in perspective, Kunitz had a total of 61 points (26 goals, 35 assists) in 82 games a year ago.

Last night, Kunitz recorded his second hat trick of the season. Keeping with the theme of a ridiculous start to the season, the hat trick came on sock monkey giveaway night. As a result, fans immediately gave the sock monkeys back by littering the ice with them when he completed the trick in the second period.

Meanwhile, Crosby is close to making a mockery of the scoring race with 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) in 26 games. He has already opened up an eight-point lead on Stamkos and is showing no signs of stopping.

Earlier this season, I mentioned how it didn’t look like Crosby was himself. Passes weren’t crisp, he looked a little tentative to go to dirty areas, etc.

That has changed entirely.

Crosby is absolutely flying right now. Over the past couple of weeks you get the feeling that something special is coming every time he touches the puck. He doesn’t even have to put the puck in the back of the net to make you shake your head in disbelief.

He had a rush up ice in overtime against the Leafs on Saturday, where he shed a defender at the blue line, made a drop pass, made a bee line to the post and nearly scored on a one-timer from a near-impossible angle.

Then, was there any doubt in anyone’s mind that he wasn’t going to score in the shootout? With the game on his stick, Crosby closed in and fired a quick shot to the shelf before James Reimer knew what even happened.

It’s been incredible to watch and there’s no reason to think that Crosby won’t continue to get better as the season goes on – if that’s even possible.

Now, let’s update the adjusted GAA standings. Due to being out of state for a couple of days, there won’t be write-ups for the games against the Flyers or Maple Leafs, but I have analyzed the goals and assigned points as usual. Those totals are reflected in the updated standings below.

Goal No. 1 – Boyes’ Snipe

Simon Despres tripped over the blue line, which gave the Isles a 2-on-1. Boyes closed in on Vokoun and ripped a wrist shot to the shelf.

Obviously, Despres takes some of the blame here, but Vokoun has to come out and challenge the shooter in this situation.

You’re taught as a kid that in a 2-on-1, the defenseman’s job is to block the pass to the back door and the goalie is supposed to take the shooter. Vokoun didn’t cut the angle enough and Boyes made a great shot to pick the far corner.

Points Assigned:

0.5 Despres

0.5 Vokoun

There’s a new leader in the overall standings, which you can see here.

(Standings reflect the last 7 games)