Penguins confident Kessel can get hot at any moment
February 17, 2016 12:00 AM
Time for Phil Kessel to catch fire? His Penguins teammates think it could happen.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Phil Kessel could have been the hero Monday night for the Penguins.
If he takes advantage of a deft setup by Sidney Crosby and beats Florida goalie Al Montoya with an uncontested shot from above the left hash mark in overtime, they return home with a 2-1 victory.
Same thing if Kessel gets a puck past Montoya in the bottom half of Round 4 in the shootout that followed.
Again, it didn’t happen, and the Penguins ended up losing in Round 5.
Now, Kessel hardly was the only guy who didn’t make the most of scoring opportunities in that 2-1 defeat at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. Teammates Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Matt Cullen also failed to score in the shootout, and players on both sides had numerous chances in regulation and overtime.
Kessel, though, was acquired from Toronto in the summer to be a difference-maker, to score goals in critical situations. So far, it hasn’t happened very often. In any situation.
He has 16 goals in 55 games, which puts him on pace to score 24 over an 82-game season.
Kessel hasn’t scored fewer than 25 in a full season since getting 19 in 2007-08, when he was with Boston.
But, even though he has not produced to expectations — when the Penguins traded for him, a popular topic of discussion was whether he could score 50 goals playing alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin — Kessel’s teammates contend he is capable of going on a goal-scoring rampage at any time.
“He’s a guy who absolutely could go on a tear,” said Cullen, who has been Kessel’s linemate while Malkin recovers from an undisclosed injury. “A guy like that, when he’s feeling it and going good, he could put in some goals in a hurry.”
Kessel demonstrated his gift for goal-scoring in the Penguins’ 2-1 shootout victory Friday at Carolina.
He got their only goal in regulation not by overpowering Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, which Kessel certainly is capable of doing, but by beating him with a well-placed shot that was released quickly from the bottom of the left circle.
“Probably not a lot of guys would score from there,” Cullen said. “He’s as good as there is at finding those holes and snapping it.”
Kessel shrugged off the idea that there was anything noteworthy about that goal — “There wasn’t really much to shoot [at], so I shot it and was able to sneak it past him. I don’t know if there’s really much to it” — but acknowledged that his quick release can be an asset.
“You try to get them off as fast as you can, and get the goalie guessing a little bit,” he said.
Although the goal against Carolina was his first in six games, Kessel didn’t seem unduly stressed about the drought that ended that night.
“I’ve had longer [streaks] than that,” he said. “So you just keep going and things will work themselves out.”
Still, Kessel’s overall performance at Carolina was a template for how to maximize his effectiveness.
He launched seven shots on goal, skated with a purpose and was aggressive in the attacking zone.
“From the first shift, you could see that he was moving his feet and driving and creating space,” Cullen said. “It’s fun to see when he gets the puck and attacks. He generates more opportunities for himself when he does that.”
Kessel’s knack for manufacturing scoring chances is part of the reason teammates are confident his offensive output could spike in coming weeks.
“He’s got that ability where nothing’s really happening, and, all of a sudden, he’s got this quick break or he’s got a breakaway somehow,” Crosby said. “He’s got that big-play capability.
“The way he shoots the puck, he can score in bunches. No problem.”
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @MolinariPG.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.