Sullivan's 'gut feeling' on Crosby-Kessel pairing gives Penguins a boost
February 20, 2016 12:00 AM
Matt Freed / Post-Gazette
The Penguins' Phil Kessel is congratulated after scoring against the Red Wings in the second period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The magic never materialized between Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel in October.
The duo spent seven games on the Penguins top line and produced little to suggest they were a match made in heaven, or capable of those outrageous point totals that had been predicted all summer after Kessel’s acquisition from Toronto.
Consider this: The whole team — including Crosby — was struggling to find its footing in October, which is something they long ago accomplished.
Could the timing finally be right?
“It was more, I think, my gut feeling that maybe this might work,” coach Mike Sullivan said Friday after practice at Consol Energy Center. “Sometimes, when players don’t play together for a while and you put them together there’s a spark. Our hope was that that would occur.
“Phil, obviously, is a goal-scorer. He can really shoot the puck. I think regardless who Sid plays with, he is a guy who is going to make everybody around him better. That’s the nature of his game. So, we felt that the time was probably right, given the fact that we struggled to generate goal-scoring a few games in a row. Maybe if we tweaked it a little bit, we might get a spark?”
The Crosby-Kessel line scored three of the Penguins six goals in a 6-3 win Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
The two had not been regular linemates since Oct. 22.
Crosby said there is a baseline of understanding between the two players this time around, cultivated from time on the same team and the power play.
“I mean, we’ve got a pretty good feel for how we play,” Crosby said. “And, when you’re playing together, you have a better chance to watch and see tendencies, that kind of thing. We’re on the power play together. You get a pretty good idea of what to expect, habits and stuff. I think you just try to understand that and jell and make plays out there.”
The duo learned of the line change less than two hours Thursday before the game.
Sullivan said the coaching staff had been considering the move for a few days because Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed injury) is still out, and team-wide scoring had dried up.
“I had discussions with the coaching staff for the last little while here on whether or not we thought it would make sense given the circumstance we’re in, given the injuries that we have,” Sullivan said.
Crosby said the big picture has changed dramatically since October.
“At that point, everyone’s got predictions. Now it’s just all about winning,” Crosby said. “That’s the focus, and that’s all we’re worried about.”
He said time usually helps any line adjustment, and he believes there is enough awareness between the two to make for a more seamless transition now.
“There’s no doubt the more you play together the more comfortable you’re going to get. But I don’t think it should be too big of an adjustment for any of us,” Crosby said.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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