Chris Kunitz ready for Penguins reunion
Veteran wing Chris Kunitz doesn't think there will be any awkwardness tonight when he faces the Penguins for the first time since joining the Lightning this summer.
Kunitz, 38, already got those feelings out of the way in early September when, after evacuating Florida due to Hurricane Irma, he skated with former Penguins teammates in Pittsburgh.
"I felt a little out of place," he said. "That was the awkward stage of being in blue and them all being in Pittsburgh colors."
Kunitz had special memories in his nine years in Pittsburgh, including three Stanley Cups. All three of his children - Zach (8), Payton (6) and Aubrey (3) - were born in the city. So the biggest adjustment Kunitz has dealt with has come off the ice settling into Tampa.
"We fell in love with the city, and met some really nice people," Kunitz said.
Kunitz knew at the end of last season he'd likely have to move on, a message sent during the exit meetings. "They told us to test the market," he said. "There wasn't much back and forth."
Kunitz felt the Lightning gave him the best chance to win another Cup, and he's settled in nicely on the fourth line with Ryan Callahan. Kunitz scored his first goal with Tampa Bay in Monday's 4-3 overtime win over Washington, a key score that cut Washington's lead to 3-2.
"It makes it a little easier to know you're contributing," Kunitz said.
Captain Steven Stamkos said both Kunitz and fellow free agent signing Dan Girardi are already part of the team's leadership group. "He brings so much more than just on the ice. He's a leader," Stamkos said.
Kunitz said he's not a "rah-rah" type of guy, rather leading by example. And he learned a lot from the culture built in Pittsburgh, which helped them win back to back Cups.
"It's having that winning mentality," Kunitz said. "You always know you've got to earn it every single night. Once you have that belief, it's something you're almost doing less is more. Everyone is contributing to accomplish something. Your to players are going to have to be your top players and at key times they always are. You have to have belief those guys are going to do it."
More from skate: G Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his fourth straight start... C Cedric Paquette, who missed the last two practices, participated in today's optional skate but will miss the game. Coach Jon Cooper doesn't think it is a long-term thing. Expect C Gabriel Dumont to take Paquette's spot on the fourth line with Callahan and Kunitz.