[Photo Credit: Luis M. Alvarez / Associated Press]
On Jan. 7, the official roster for Team Canada was announced. Sidney Crosby was the only obvious Penguins player for the Olympic team, but Chris Kunitz and James Neal were hopeful they would get their chance to shine in Sochi.
When the names were announced, Kunitz had made the cut, while Neal had been left off the list.
There's no denying that playing alongside Sidney Crosby has its benefits, and some people may argue that Kunitz was only selected due to the chemistry he has established with Crosby. But over the last three seasons, Kunitz has earned his spot on Team Canada, and in his first game since the roster announcement he quickly showed his worth.
Blinded by the incredible performance of Sidney Crosby, fans may not have noticed the little things that Kunitz does which helps lead to the success of those around him. His entire career in Pittsburgh has been in the shadows of the superstars around him, but that has never phased Kunitz.
He may not make the highlight reels or be displayed in many headlines, but without him the Penguins offense would struggle immensely. The reason why the line of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis works so well together is because their playing styles complement each other, which may sound simple, but it can take years to find two guys who will make a superstar even better.
Now that Dupuis is injured, the production of the top line has slightly faltered.
Evgeni Malkin is a perfect example of what can happen to a superstars production when he is not placed in between two guys whose playing styles don't gel with that of Malkin's. He has played very well alongside James Neal, but finding the last piece to that puzzle has been difficult for Dan Bylsma. Currently, Jussi Jokinen has faired well filling in the spot once played by Beau Bennett.
The finish between the Penguins and the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night was incredible. It's so rare to see a team score twice with the goalie pulled in order to tie the game late in the third.
Crosby may have stole the show, but without Kunitz on the ice, the comeback never occurs. If you breakdown the game-tying goal, it really is Kunitz that makes it all happen.
First, he helps Crosby win a 2-on-2 battle along the boards in the offensive zone in order to get the puck up top. Then, when Malkin sends the puck over to Jokinen, Kunitz hustles to the front of the net and sets a perfect screen in front of Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack.
Jokinen's shot hits Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis in front of the net, and then Kunitz bats the puck out of mid-air over to Sidney Crosby, who gathers it off his skate and buries it by Lack to tie the game.
The play Crosby made is incredible, but Kunitz is arguably the best in the world at making it possible for Crosby to make plays like this one. The management team who picked Team Canada recognized this and gave Kunitz his roster spot.
In Sochi, Kunitz doesn't need to stand out individually, he does however need to get the puck to certain areas of the ice that will allow Crosby to stand out. That's chemistry, that's knowing your role and that's how Canada will return with a gold medal.
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