Kunitz’ Hat Trick Helps Penguins Top Isles


April 9, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14) gets ready to make a pass against the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Center. The Penguins defeated the Hurricanes 5-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Kunitz continued his goal onslaught Sunday night, as he registered a hat trick and the Pittsburgh Penguins destroyed the New York Islanders 6-1.

For Pittsburgh, the win helps them maintain their Eastern Conference pace by remaining in second with 36 points and a record of 18-8-0.

And for Kunitz, he also was able to add two helpers to his hat trick, which gave him his first career five point contest.

On the season, Kunitz ranks third in the NHL with 36 points (17G, 19A) and he now is tied with Los Angeles forward Jeff Carter and Pittsburgh’s own James Neal for second in goals.

Kunitz was great again, but Captain Sidney Crosby was just as good.

Crosby collected five assists which now gives him 45 points (12G, 33A) on the season and he now has a comfortable eight point advantage on Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos, for the NHL lead in that category.

Crosby also has a sizable lead on Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis for the NHL lead in assists, recording six more than the veteran.

Having a knack for racking up points against the Islanders, it’s interesting to also note that in the last three games Crosby’s recorded five points, his opponent in those contests have been none other than the Isles.

We’ll have to wait and see if he can do it again when the Pens play the Isles March 22nd.

Kris Letang posted another two helpers giving him 26 points (3G, 23A) and raising his NHL lead for defenseman to seven over St. Louis’s Kevin Shattenkirk and Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall.

Letang is quietly putting together a streak of his own, making this the fifth game in a row in which the Norris candidate has registered a point. He is now skating to a eye-popping plus-10 and slowly gaining credibility as the games top defenseman.

James Neal potted his 17th goal of the year and he also assisted on both of Kunitz’s power play tallies in the first period Sunday night. Neal now has 28 points (17G, 11A) and is tied for second in the NHL in goals.

He too is currently riding a five game point streak and has scored a goal in seven of his last 10 games.

Pascal Dupuis was able to get on the stat sheet as well, potting two goals fed from Kunitz and Crosby both times, and giving him his third straight game with a goal.

While his point streak isn’t as long as Kunitz, Crosby, Letang and Neal’s, Dupuis still has an impressive three game point streak going for him.

Tomas Vokoun saw his 11th game of the year, turning aside 19 of the Isles 20 shots on goal and improving his record to 6-3-0 on the season.

He saw a couple offensive rushes from New York Sunday night, but overall it was a rather comfortable game from start to finish for the veteran. For the season, Vokoun has a 3.07 goals against average and a .896 save percentage.

The next contest could foreshadow a possible playoff matchup for Pittsburgh as they will go up against the Boston Bruins, who sit fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 16-3-3 record (35 points) and have only played in 22 games–four less than the Pens.

We’ll see how the Pens size up agains the Bruins now that Malkin is shelved.

Pittsburgh plays Boston in the CONSOL Energy Center tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.