That headline might seem like a joke, but Penguins winger Chris Kunitz really is being considered for Team Canada. One wouldn’t immediately think of his name when drafting mock-rosters of this year’s Olympic teams, but Kunitz just might be playing himself into such a roster spot.
Consider this: Obviously Team Canada’s top-line center is going to be Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to also take his go-to-winger? The guy Crosby has full trust in—the guy who as of this writing is tied for 3rd in the NHL in goals (17)?
For Team Canada—and Detroit Red Wings—head coach Mike Babcock, it’s tempting for sure.
He could see some of this:
I mean, they always know where the other is going to be.
But okay, I get it—what’s Kunitz’s production without Crosby? Doesn’t Crosby make Kunitz?
Maybe. And maybe not. Consider this great stat tweeted from Penguins beat writer for the Trib-Review Josh Yohe on Dec 7:
Chris Kunitz has scored 78 goals in his past 160 games. Sidney Crosby only played in 88 of those games.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) December 6, 2013
Okay, clearly Kunitz isn’t scoring .89 goals per game, so he has been productive without Crosby.
A case can be made, however, for how Kunitz makes Crosby better.
Since that article was published Nov. 22, let’s update the numbers a little bit:
Crosby with Kunitz 5-on-5: 1.83 goals for per 20 minutes & 0.58 goals against per 20 minutes
Crosby without Kunitz 5-on5: 1.23 goals for per 20 minutes & 1.03 goals against per 20 minutes (in 92 minutes and 28 seconds of ice-time spent apart)
Ninety-two minutes isn’t that large of a sample size, but it’s definitely large enough to show a trend.
The amazing part of those stats is how it shows just how dominate the Crosby-Kunitz combination is at dominating the puck. Only allowing 0.56 goals against per 20 minutes of ice-time is a clear indication of the tandem’s chemistry and prowess in the offensive zone.
That’s all well and good, but there is one thing to consider: What if Crosby gets hurt?
Let’s take a deeper look into Yohe’s tweet. So far this season:
Kunitz with Crosby 5-on-5: 1.17 goals for per 20 minutes & 0.56 goals against per 20 minutes
Kunitz without Crosby 5-on-5: 0.00 goals for per 20 minutes & 1.04 goals against per 20 minutes (in 38:28 of ice-time)
But Crosby has been healthy all year and 38:28 is hardly any ice-time at all, so let’s look at last year when Kunitz played 48 games and Crosby played 36:
Kunitz without Crosby 5-on-5 (2012-13): 0.81 goals for per 20 minutes & 0.60 goals against per 20 minutes (in 194:49 of ice-time)
What about the year before when Crosby played only 22 games and Kunitz played 82? Well, let’s see:
Kunitz without Crosby 5-on-5 (2011-12): 1.14 goals for per 20 minutes & 0.81 goals against per 20 minutes (in 1015:37 minutes of ice-time)
Yohe might be on to something here, it seems. There doesn’t seem to be a significant drop off in Kunitz’s numbers when Crosby is out of the lineup.
But when Crosby is hurt, doesn’t Kunitz play alongside Team Russia’s top-line center, Evgeni Malkin?
Sure he does, but if Crosby doesn’t play for Team Canada, Kunitz would get bumped to a line alongside someone of around Malkin’s skill-level.
Don’t forget, this is the Olympics after all.
And Chris Kunitz should be playing in them.