• My Scores
  • Golf
  • MLB
  • NBA
  • NHL

Chris Kunitz is quietly having an incredible season

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

More NHL: Scores | Standings | Odds | Fight-O-Meter | League Leaders | Rumors

Thursday's Penguins-Flyers game was everything we've come to expect from these two teams in recent years.

Penalties, crazy plays, a lot of goals and one team racing out to a big lead and letting it slip away.

Usually the team that squanders an early advantage is Pittsburgh, having lost four games in the past two years in which they had a two-goal lead over the Flyers, including their most recent meeting this season in Pittsburgh.

On Thursday the Penguins were able to flip the script in a 5-4 come-from-behind win in Philadelphia. And it was one of the NHL's leading scorers once again leading the charge for the Penguins.

And it wasn't Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

It was ... Chris Kunitz.

After falling in a 4-1 hole after the first period, due in large part to more undisciplined penalties and shoddy penalty killing, the two areas Philadelphia has been able to exploit the past two seasons when these two teams meet up, the Penguins stormed back with four unanswered goals.

Two of those, including the game-winner 18 seconds into the third period, went to Kunitz, who continues to put together an incredible season that isn't getting anywhere near enough attention.

For years Kunitz has always been the guy who does everything well but excels in no particular area. He's defensively sound, is known for doing "the dirty work" along the boards and in front of the net, drives possession and will score his 20-25 goals and record his 50-55 points. You can comfortably pencil him in for both numbers in any given season.

After his three-point effort (two goals, one assist) on Thursday, he's currently on a pace that would net him 105 points in an 82-game season. His 31 points after 24 games are good enough for third best in the NHL, trailing only his linemate Crosby and Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos.

Bet you didn't see that coming this season. At any point.

It certainly helps that he's getting to play alongside Crosby, but Kunitz has been a regular on Crosby's line ever since he came to Pittsburgh in the middle of the 2008-09 season (keep in mind, Kunitz has been a top-six winger on not one, but two Stanley Cup winning teams, also playing a key role on Anaheim's 2007 team) and has never come close to producing like this at any point.

The interesting thing about his increase in goals this season isn't just how many he's scoring, but where and how he's scoring them. His goals in recent years were typically the garbage goals around the front of the net, getting deflections and jamming in rebounds on second chance opportunities.

This season, however, he's scoring more goals off the rush and even seems to have found the soft spot in the slot where he can rip one-timers from between the circles, something he's done with greater frequency in recent weeks.

Kind of like this goal against Tampa Bay on Monday:

And it's showing up in where his shots are coming from and how far he's scoring from.

Last season, his average shot on goal came from 27 feet away from the net, with his average goal being scored from 24.2 feet. This season his average shot -- before Thursday -- has been 28.2 feet from the net with his average goal coming from 26 feet away.

Here are his average goal distances dating back to 2008-09:

2012-13: 26.2 feet
2011-12: 24.1 feet
2010-11: 20.1 feet
2009-10: 21.2 feet
2008-09: 15.4 feet

Not sure how long he can keep this up (his 24 percent shooting percentage this season is double his career average, so some regression is to be expected at some point) but he's been a huge part of the Penguins' offensive success this season.

It's funny, for years Penguins fans have been screaming for the team to find a reliable, goal-scoring winger to play alongside Crosby.

As it turns out, that guy was already there.

(shot distance data via Greg Sinclair's shot app)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @Agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

 
CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
COMMENTS
Conversation powered by Livefyre

nhl Video

April 10, 2014
Bold predictions: John Tortorella (1:21)
1 April 2, 2014
Mark Messier talks Rangers playoff push
(4:15)

Latest

Most Popular

CBSSports.com Shop

2014 Winter Classic

NHL