WASHINGTON – Chris Kunitz has reportedly been battling an illness for a few days, but his offensive production has never been healthier.
Kunitz scored a hat trick, his second straight three-point game, as the Penguins earned their second win in as many days, 6-3 over the Capitals at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Sidney Crosby also capped a prolific weekend, as the Pittsburgh captain recorded three assists in Washington, less than 24 hours after getting a goal and two helpers in Saturday’s 5-1 home defeat of New Jersey.
Winners of three in a row, the Penguins (6-3-0) scored four of the game’s final five goals, turning a 2-2 tie early in the second period into their fifth road victory in six tries. Pittsburgh is tied with Chicago for the most road wins in the league as the 48-game season enters its fourth week.
Paul Martin, Matt Cooke and Kris Letang also netted goals for the Penguins, with Evgeni Malkin picking up two assists. Kunitz’s second and third goals came on the power play, including his 5-on-3 goal with eight seconds left in the game, giving him five on the year. The Penguins were officially 2 for 3 on the advantage, with the final eight seconds technically counting as their only missed chance.
Pittsburgh exposed Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who appeared unsure of himself for much of the nationally-televised rivalry showcase. The Penguins scored five times on 18 shots through the first two periods before the Capitals kept the puck in the Pittsburgh end for much of the third.
Penguins netminder Tomas Vokoun started for the fourth time in nine games and earned his third victory. He allowed a goal in each period, including a fluky John Carlson score early in the second that struck a glass partition and caromed in with Vokoun behind the net.
Mike Ribeiro scored during a power play early in the third, bringing Washington within two. But Vokoun was calm as usual when facing an 11-shot Caps attack in the final frame, including a patient glove save on Alex Ovechkin with several minutes left to play. Ovechkin fired a game-high five shots on goal, even though he couldn’t create much space until the third.
Once again, the Penguins were ready to go at the opening faceoff, as they scored the first goal for the eighth time in nine games. Crosby cleanly won an offensive-zone draw back to Martin, whose shot appeared to glance off Kunitz on its way into the net with 3:37 played in the first. The goal was later credited to Martin, his second of a season he’s begun strongly.
Green snapped a Wojtek Wolski feed over Vokoun’s shoulder at 5:05, but Cooke redirected Deryk Engelland’s point shot past Holtby three minutes later, and the Penguins carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Pittsburgh started the second raggedly, with Carlson’s lucky bounce perhaps appropriately tying the game at 4:03. However, instead of being shocked by the poor fortune, the Penguins poured on goals from Letang and Kunitz less than a minute apart, both of which Holtby had a better-than-average chance to stop.
The Capitals’ young goalie had no opportunity to get in front of Kunitz’s second goal with 6:01 left in the period. Washington’s Karl Alzner snapped his stick while killing Wolski’s tripping penalty, a weakness Malkin took advantage of with a backdoor pass to Kunitz on the inner edge of the left circle.
The Penguins were disorganized for much of the third, with fatigue appearing to creep into their play. However, two simultaneous late penalties by the Capitals’ Carlson and Ovechkin allowed Pittsburgh to close the contest on the power play.
Coach Dan Bylsma kept his No. 1 man-advantage unit on the ice with the assumed goal of getting Kunitz his third score. It was mission accomplished in the final 10 seconds, with Crosby hitting Kunitz for a one-timer from the slot that triggered a roar from the Penguins fans in attendance.
The Penguins have Monday off before taking a short flight to New York on Tuesday for their second matchup of the season with the Islanders. New York beat Pittsburgh 4-1 last Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center, the Penguins’ only loss against an Atlantic Division foe thus far.