It's probably fair to say the person on the Penguins' roster who has the best idea of what it's like to face new defenseman Zbynek Michalek on a regular basis is Chris Kunitz. For several seasons with the Ducks, Kunitz made his living in the high traffic areas in front of the net and along the boards on the forecheck. And he regularly crossed paths with Michalek, then of the Pacific Division rival Coyotes. It was Michalek's job to deal with guys like Kunitz out of those areas.
Kunitz recently talked about what it's like to face Michalek, the potential for more time on the power play and his personal goals.
(Note: We pretty much can't resist not using this emo-bangs photo of Kunitz any time the opportunity presents itself.)
A scouting report on Michalek (right). Is he comparable to anyone?
"I think he’s definitely parts of a lot of guys. I think one thing we’ll notice here is his puck-moving ability. But he’s a physical, kind of in-you-face defenseman. He does everything really well. I think that’s probably why he was such a high priority on the first day (of free agency). He’s definitely a competitive guy. He gets in there, he hits the body. We definitely scrummed it up a few times."
How soon can Michalek get acclimated to the Penguins' system?
"With our system, the defense needs a puck-moving guy who can move up, skate and join the rush and that’s definitely something he brings to the team. So I don’t think it’s going to take him long to acclimate and learn our system. Maybe the position stuff might take a little bit longer. Every team has different systems, different words for different plays, different back checks. The terminology and stuff might take a little to get but he’s definitely a smart hockey player. Very skilled with the puck. He can shoot it, make that first quick pass and skate and that’s what forwards are looking for. Get the puck out of our end as quick as we can."
How valuable is Michalek as a right-handed shot?
"It’s unheard of! It helps (defensive) zone faceoffs when you can have both of your (defensemen), a lefty and a righty out there. You can go either way with the puck. It’s a thing you take for granted if you have them on your team. If you don’t, you notice it."
Is there any parallel to the Ducks' quick exit from the 2008 playoffs a year after winning the Stanley Cup and the Penguins' quick exit last season, also, a year after winning the Cup?
"If you look at the years leading up to it, in Anaheim, we went far in the playoffs one year, won, then lost. But there’s no excuses. We thought we should have done better. We had a let down. It’s obviously something ingrained in our minds that we want to fix. It’s something that’s going to push us to be a better team. To feel that pain of losing in a situation where you know you should have been better. Sure enough, it was on TV (over the summer) and you just kind of watch it and it wants you to be better."
With Bill Guerin gone, could he see time on the first power play unit in front of the net?
"Definitely. I want to be competitive. I want to go out there and earn my way and do whatever I can to help this team win. I want to up my points. I want to be on the ice as much as I can. And the way of doing that is out-competing everyone else. Get in situations where I can be successful and help the team. If that’s an area they put me, I’m going to work as hard as I can."
Has he targeted any personal goal or point totals this season?
"Obviously I want to improve on the season before or my personal best. That’s always a goal in my mind. But number one is for our team to win. Gel good and have good chemistry. The more wins we have, the better team we have, the more confidence we have, the better chance we have at winning the Stanley Cup. That’s the goal at first. Personal goals come second."
(Photo: First Kunitz-Photobucket; Michalek-Justin K. Aller/Getty Images; Second Kunitz-Jeff Gross/Getty Images; Third Kunitz-Gerry Broome/Associated Press)