I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It’s convenient to wait until the day after Phil Kessel scored the only goal of a 1-0 win to write an article defending him.
There’s been one thing I’ve seen from Kessel very recently that I don’t like, and it’s how he lays out on the boards, head buried in his arms. It made me wonder if he was off a little.
However, his emotion and passion is awesome. Yelling at his teamates a little is great. He wants things to be better. We all do. Evgeni Malkin has looked sluggish at times, so why can’t Phil say something? I know the obvious answer is because he’s not doing everything right either so how can he call anyone else out. But here’s the thing about Phil Kessel: he knows his role.
A super sniper like Kessel plays on the second or third line, and sits on the number one power play unit (Washington could learn a thing or two about how a winning team handles big name snipers). He’s there for one reason. That reason isn’t to back check. That reason isn’t to block shots. That reason isn’t to throw big hits. It’s to score goals. Period.
Now, Kessel learned last year theres more to hockey than scoring. There’s winning too. The best way to win is to back check, block shots, and throw some hits. He does all those things too. But that’s just a bonus. His spot in the roster and his role on his line is to finish. If the passes aren’t coming, he can’t do his job. He wants help and he’s making it clear.
There’s one important thing to remember as well: even with a goal scoring role, because of the makeup of the Penguins there isn’t one player that needs to score all the time. He doesn’t need to be consistent and carry the team. He just needs to chip in once in a while. That’s the beauty of a deep team.
Fans have been spoiled for too long by having everyone scoring at the same time. The Penguins averaged over 4 goals game for half the season. But really, they only need one or two players at a time to be really on.
Conor Sheary was hot in the first half of the season, for example. Malkin was a beast midway through. Sidney Crosby got really hot down the stretch. Into the playoffs Jake Guentzel started out as the animal. Patric Hornqvist stepped up with a big goal in Game 7 against Washington. Kessel stepped up with a big goal last game. He’s taking his turn and that’s all they need.
These ramblings on the bench aren’t a rant from some whiny farm boy begging Uncle Owen to let him go into town and buy some power converters. This is a top NHL goal scorer trying to make things better.
I know the way to close a Pittsburgh sports fan’s mind is to use Tom Brady as an example of something to aspire to, but how many championships has that guy won? He expects the most out of his teammates. He yells and hollers at them and he’s the first one to tell them when they need to be better.
I’m not comparing Phil Kessel to Brady as far as the level of dominance in their sports, or even on the same level of respect from team mates. But it’s the passion. It’s the fire. It’s blazing full force. This isn’t something Kessel normally does so now that he’s done it, instead of putting him down and calling him out, I think he’s earned having his team (and fans) taking another look and asking why is he doing this now.
To get that answer, maybe a better comparison would be Patric Hornqvist. Should he have been kicked off the team last playoff season when he blew a gasket at no less than Sidney Crosby on the bench twice a game?
The playoffs are an emotional ride. Columbus and Washington were both extremely easy series to get invested in. If you don’t play with an edge and be the aggressor in those series, you don’t survive. And I don’t just mean you lose the series. I mean you physically get destroyed. It’s literally personally dangerous to not be on your guard and fight back at all times.
So after those gruelling rounds, you start off against a team who sits back. A team who doesn’t go looking for anything. You could easily float around in this series and never be hit. A team lulls you to sleep and doesn’t give you any energy. You have to make your own energy. That takes more work. That takes more effort. Sometimes it takes more creativity.
Athletes coax themselves into game modes in strange ways at times. When your opponent isn’t doing anything to work up a hatred, your friends can be a good substitute. Sometimes that means bench rage. That was a little bit for his fellow Pens, and some of that has nothing to do with them. He’s looking to get into the series, and it may just have worked.