Losing the reigning Hart Trophy winner for an extended period of time is never ideal, but the Pittsburgh Penguins seem equipped with enough weapons to make the absence of Evgeni Malkin relatively painless.
The Boston Bruins are ready to test that theory.
Pittsburgh looks to win a sixth straight game Tuesday night by earning a fourth consecutive victory over visiting Boston, which has earned at least a point in 11 of its 12 road games.
Malkin suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in Saturday’s 5-4 overtime win over Toronto, and he’s expected to miss at least a week.
Sidney Crosby who leads the NHL with 45 points, had five assists to give him a league-best 33.
“I get to play with the best player in the world every night,” Kunitz said of Crosby, who centers their line that also includes Pascal Dupuis “It makes going out and playing a lot of fun.”
Kunitz, who leads the league with a plus-21 rating, is having a breakout season with 17 goals and 19 assists and has scored a goal in six of his last seven games. He has 10 goals and five assists in that stretch and ranks behind only Crosby and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (37) in points.
“The way Kuni’s firing the puck right now, he makes all of us look good by putting the puck in the back of the net,” Crosby said.
James Neal extended his goal-scoring streak to four Sunday and has 17 on the season, and Dupuis scored twice to extend his own streak to three.
The Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis line has accounted for 24 goals when playing together - more than any line in the league.
“We want to make sure that we’re producing,” said Crosby, who has five goals and 15 assists during an NHL-best nine-game point streak. “We found a way to take advantage of our chances. It’s something we want to keep doing.”
Crosby has three goals and three assists during Pittsburgh’s three-game winning streak over Boston, which also will be seeking to end the Penguins’ four-game run at home.
The Bruins (17-3-3) improved to 9-1-2 on the road with a 3-2 shootout victory over Ottawa on Monday after falling behind by two goals early. Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille scored in regulation, and David Krejci added the shootout winner for Boston, which has won three straight overall.
Krejci also assisted on Paille’s goal.
“David’s a disher and David did what he had to do. He put it right on the tape and Dan took care of the rest,” coach Claude Julien said.
Tuukka Rask made 30 saves for his second shutout, but backup Anton Khudobin could get the start in net Tuesday in the second of a back-to-back. Khudobin is 4-1-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and has stopped 45 of 49 shots while winning his last two starts.
Marc-Andre Fleury should get the start for Pittsburgh, but he’s 2-1-0 with a 4.43 GAA over his last four starts, also getting pulled after giving up four goals in the first period of Thursday’s win over Philadelphia.
Fleury, though, is 6-2-0 with a 1.75 GAA in his last eight starts versus Boston.