Tag Archives: Phil Kessel

The Best and Worst of The Penguins in One Night

On Sunday night, the Penguins won a rollercoaster of a game against the Boston Bruins 6-5 in overtime. The Bruins were fresh off a 7-1 victory in Boston against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that the Penguins just can’t seem to figure out. This game had potential to be very good and very bad and we got exactly that. The best (and worst) of both worlds.

The first period is a prime example of how this game was being pulled every which way. Bruins score 1:51 into the frame because the Penguins defense continue to forget that leaving people in front of your net is a bad thing and usually results in more bad things.

Ryan Spooner gets his 4th of the year and we’re in for a treat. A couple minutes later the Penguins are cycling well down low, which was one of the exceptionally good portions of their game Sunday, and work it up to the hockey form of a stone giant in Jamie Oleksiak who nets his 3rd of the year on a shot Tuukka Rask probably should have stopped.

The Penguins get a powerplay and Phil Kessel gets a feed from Sidney Crosby and is given more than 0.001 seconds to shoot and that’s never good for the opposing team. The powerplay king scores his 18th of the year and continues to lead the league in powerplay points. Kris Letang scores to add on and the Penguins go into the first period up 3-1.

Pretty good start right? Well this is where I would describe the hockey as being bad. Very bad, very quickly.

In no way was this Tristan Jarry‘s best night. He didn’t get much help on defense as Boston scores 4 goals on 7 shots in the second period and the Penguins are handling the puck like a live hand grenade. Turnovers were handed out like candy on Halloween.

Then something that hasn’t happened virtually all year happened. The Penguins have been having trouble scoring goals when they need them. For example, when you’re being bombarded with shots and you can’t generate much offense, the best defense against that is a goal to stop the bleeding. The Penguins were awarded another powerplay and desperately needed a goal to end this atrocious period. Sure enough, Sid, to Evgeni Malkin, to the back of the net and the second period ends 5-4.

Third period starts and the Penguins seem to be buzzing. Play is really going both ways when Riley Sheahan catches a break and gets a step on Boston’s D. Another shot Rask should have stopped but they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

At this point the hockey has plateaued. Then Brad Marchand gets loose. Marchand gets slashed. Marchand gets a penalty shot. Did I mention Matt Murray is now in net? Murray stops Marchand and eventually we go to overtime.

Overtime was incredibly one sided. Penguins possessed the puck almost the entire time with Boston continually on their heels defensively. Finally Kessel busts into the zone with speed and after a few quick passes with Malkin, Geno buries it and everyone goes home happy.

This was the best I’ve seen the Penguins play and the worst I’ve seen the Penguins play. Daniel Sprong does in fact need defensive development. Shocker. I thought those scouts were lying the entire time. Crosby is returning to form. Malkin went nuts offensively but was incredibly lazy defensively. Goaltending on both sides was subpar besides Murray.

As I said, it was the best and the worst of the Penguins all in one night.

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COLUMN: Things Are Beginning To Click

The Penguins took down the Islanders on Thursday evening and what a big win it was. They gave the Islanders a point, something that doesn’t look good now but will be meaningless in the long run if things continue the way they are.

The guys are clicking right now. Even despite the loss of Justin Schultz to a lower body injury, they were able to scratch out the 4-3 overtime win and pretty much dominated the game statistically.

I’m just going to provide some bullet points and you can stop me when I’m wrong.

-The special teams was a perfect 100% on Thursday. The Penguins were able to eek out two power play goals, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel being the culprits. The Penalty Kill, on the other hand, was sensational. “I thought our penalty kill was great tonight,” Sullivan said. They truly were. It seemed they had more of a willingness to block shots and Tristan Jarry did a good job stopping the shots that did get through to him.

-Both Guentzel and Kessel are absolutely killing it in terms of scoring. Guentzel scored his 13th tonight ad is on pace for 36 goals. Will he get there? We’ll see. I think he reaches 30 on the year and no one is going to complain about that. Kessel is playing some of the best all-around hockey of his career. I predicted at the beginning of the season that he would have 80 points this year. He’s got 14 goals and 35 points in 30 games. At this pace, he’ll hit 80.

-Did the Penguins really lose their starting goaltender? You wouldn’t know it if you are just tuning into the Penguins season. Jarry has been sensational in the absence of Matt Murray and has done everything you could ask and more. The Penguins were worried about Jarry’s development if he was riding the bench in Pittsburgh but he has been great in injury relief. 5-1-0 with a 2.39 GAA and a .921 SV%? I will sign up for those numbers every time.

Matt Hunwick was the most unlikeliest of heroes in this game. In 3-on-3 overtime, anything can happen. After being stoned by Jaroslav Halak just seconds before potting the game winner, Hunwick had been playing in overtime mainly due to the Schultz injury. He’s never had more than six goals in a season in his career. It’s unlikely he will reach that this season. But Hunwick isn’t as bad as some of the fans portray him. He’s been solid, he just isn’t flashy.

That’s only a few points that can be made. Sidney Crosby is back on top of his game. Patric Hornqvist has been a menace all year long. The list goes on and on.

The team did lose Tom Kuhnhackl for the final period due to injury. They are already thin in the bottom-six and it looks like Greg McKegg will be back in Pittsburgh if Kuhnhackl misses any time. They did give a point to the Islanders which now means that spots 1-5 in the Metropolitan are separated by one point. But if that’s the worst news to come out of the game to, can you be mad?

Jarry shut down one of the youngest and hottest teams in hockey right now for 55 minutes. He had a little blip late in the game but kept it together enough to send it to overtime. That’s the maturity of a veteran goaltender. He’s making huge saves and helping win games before he’s even had 10 at the NHL level.

The Penguins are winners of 5 of their last 6 and have some winnable games coming up on the schedule. While every game is tough, there is no excuse this team can’t win more games and try and break away from the Metropolitan Division pack.

Pens On Verge of Offensive Outbreak

The Penguins can only not be the Penguins for so long.  They’ve surprisingly had struggles scoring goals all season, especially at even strength.  They rank 19th in the NHL in goals per game, which is very un-Penguin-like.

Well you are witnessing the end of the offensive drought.  The Penguins are back.

The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of their last 2 games, which is a small sample size, but it has significance:

The first of these 2 games came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, arguably the hottest team in hockey along with St. Louis.  Although their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasileskiy, was not manning the crease for the Lightning, the Penguins were starting their backup, Tristan Jarry, in the tail-end of a back-to-back scenario.  The Penguins not only won this game, but put an exclamation point on the win.  They were clearly the better team throughout the game, and it showed on the scoreboard.

The second of these 2 games was against the Philadelphia Flyers who, despite not having a great season thus far, always show up against the Penguins.  In addition, they unfortunately own the Penguins at Consol/PPG Paints, so a win was far from automatic.  Not only did the Penguins score 5 goals in this game, but they battled back on multiple occasions by erasing 3-1 and 4-3 deficits.

The defense absolutely still needs improvement.  They have been over-aggressive in the offensive zone and thus allowing opponents to have way too many odd-man chances.  That said, their offense is starting to show signs of life.  More importantly, the scorers are starting to score, and the Penguins are beginning to get some scoring from their depth guys:

After a rough start, Bryan Rust has looked fantastic in his past couple of games and has netted a couple of goals as a reward for his play.  I thought the line of him, Carter Rowney, and Carl Hagelin played extremely well against the Flyers.  They had multiple extended shifts and kept Philly pinned in their own end.

Jake Guentzel has 7 goals in his last 8 games, confirming that he is a pure goal-scorer when he is on his game. Guentzel had a rough start to the season, but he is starting to find his groove and regaining his confidence going into early December. Look for Guentzel to continue what he has been doing his past few games.

Phil Kessel has been straight up unbelievable.  He is tied for 4th in the NHL in points, and he leads the Penguins in every offensive category.  He is having an MVP-caliber season if he continues his play.  He has become the cornerstone of the Penguins power play, and has found his scoring touch as well.

Remember when Sidney Crosby died?  Again?  Yeah, he’s fine.  Dominating Philly, scoring OT winners, and scoring 9 points in his last 4 games, including 6 in his last 2.  He is going to be okay, and now that he has found his game, look out.  Remember what happened last time Crosby fell off the face of the earth?  It just might happen again…

Oh, and not to mention, the Penguins have scored 5 in their past 2 games without Evgeni Malkin, who will hopefully be back soon.

The Penguins are now done with the most difficult part of their schedule.  They play Buffalo in a home-and-home series this coming weekend which leads into a 5 game homestand.

The Penguins are on the verge of an offensive outbreak: it starts now.

Kessel Picking Up Crosby Production

In a season where the Penguins scoring has been consistently inconsistent, America’s favorite sweetheart, Phil Kessel, has been there to carry them. He’s providing a much needed jolt of point production.

Kessel’s hot start could not have came at a better time as the Penguins have seen a dip in goals scored by their star leader, Sidney Crosby.

Now hold your horses, Crosby has not lost his touch or declined in a play. He’s suffered from the negative side of what we here in the business call “puck luck”. Crosby has just had some bad puck luck, but he’s playing the right way and the goals will come.

The same thing happened about 2 or 3 seasons ago when everyone pointed out that Crosby wasn’t scoring. He ended up top 5 in points that year.

Matter of fact, the floodgates might have just been opened now that he scored Tuesday night. Let’s get back to the matter at hand though, and that’s Phil Kessel.

Most teams would suffer heavily from a lack up scoring from their best player. The Penguins should be no different, but Kessel has stepped up to the plate and delivered some of his best play during his stay as a Penguin.

Don’t believe me? Kessel is averaging the highest points per game of his career right now, not just as a Penguin, but in his entire career! Think about that, he doesn’t even have to be the top guy like he was on other teams, and yet he’s scoring like he is.

Kessel is 6th in the NHL in points, and it’s no mistake why he’s a top of that list. I can even think of a reasons because.

-He’s comfortable knowing his role. I know it’s his 3rd year here already but after moving around a couple lines, he know’s when to give and take, figuring out what’s best for business. This includes his role on the power play.

-I really think his relationship with Ryan Reaves has helped leaps and bounds for this team. I’m not exactly sure as to why, but when you just hit it off away from the ice the way these two have, it affects you on the ice.

They have a dynamic duo feel about them, partners in crime from your favorite movie. Like a Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Wayne and Garth, or SpongeBob and Patrick vibe. From playing basketball to playing pranks on road trips, the camaraderie has helped.

-The chemistry he has now with Evgeni Malkin is uncanny. You can’t measure how well these 2 have meshed this season. After throwing them on a line 2 seasons ago, things didn’t workout, but this year is a different story, and it’s benefitting both greatly.

Leaps and valleys always occur, but if Kessel can maintain his rapid production while Crosby is now about to go on his tear, the Penguins are not to be reckoned with. Though they haven’t been at their best yet, Phil Kessel has.

P.S.

Everyone needs this shirt.

COLUMN: You Can’t Stop The Force, You Can Only Contain It

We’ve been blessed to shift from the Mario Lemieux era right into the Sidney Crosby era. Ever since Crosby joined the league, he’s been one of the most dominant players in the game even in an era where it is considerably harder to score.

Despite an 11-game goal-less drought, Crosby looked as determined Tuesday night as he had in weeks. The drive to change his hard luck was evident beyond belief. He ended that slump in a big way.

“I just found the open area, hung out backdoor and he found me.”

That was linemate Conor Sheary after his goal 16 seconds into overtime in Tuesday night’s contest. We watched as Crosby dominated below the goal line in a way only Crosby seems to be able to do. He was followed down low by Sabres forward Evander Kane and, despite Kane’s attempt to pin Crosby to the boards, Crosby squirmed out, cut to his right and did exactly what Sheary expected Crosby would do. If you don’t believe me or want to see it again, here you go:

 

In any other year, that wouldn’t be too significant. Of course, it was an incredible “Vintage Crosby” move we have seen a million times over that we marvel over again and again. This year, it almost seemed like it was destined.

When a tornado comes through a town, you can’t stop it. It’s simple Mother Nature. You can contain the damage, though, by taking necessary precautions. Teams have found a way to keep him contained. Even Crosby himself just hadn’t really been that tornado we’ve seen for his years in Pittsburgh. Last night, he proved you can’t completely stop it.

Early in the game, Phil Kessel threw a nice cross-crease pass that Crosby has buried standing right next to the goalie for years. He whiffed on one last night that he undoubtedly wants back.

“That was a tough one,” Crosby said. You’re trying to pick it up through the guys feet. Most times, you find a way to get your stick on it but sometimes you miss it and it goes off your foot…Yeah it’s tough when they’re not going in but there has been some really good chances the last few games and hopefully now they’ll start to go in.”

Crosby isn’t a dumb hockey player. He knows that when slumps are busted and you’re a star of the magnitude of his, they usually breakout in a huge way. We’ve seen it before and we will surely see it again this season and maybe as soon as Thursday.

Surely enough, it went in later in the game when they needed it the most. Down 3-2 in the second, Crosby found a rebound from a Kessel shot and roofed it with every intention of making sure that puck found the twine:

“You’re happy to see it go in the net,” Crosby said. “There were a few more I probably could have had tonight. As long as they’re there, hopefully they’ll go in a little bit more now.”

Translation: They’re going to go in because I’m Sidney freakin’ Crosby but I’m too humble to admit it.

Hockey is so much more fun when Sidney Crosby is playing like the NHL’s best player. He hasn’t been that so far to this point in the season. Last night, Vintage Crosby came back and so did the Penguins.

Free Hotdogs For Everyone

Phil Kessel is producing at one of his best paces since he’s become a Penguin. 

Kessel has been huge when it comes to the Pens winning games. He has provided huge upside with his play making ability. He still can fire the puck but his strength seems to be his play making ability so far.

Kessel has 15 points in the first 14 games of the season and 3 of those helped the Pens win 3 overtime games. He got in and stopped and pass which lead to a Malkin overtime goal and got two game winners himself this year.

He seems like a different player when you watch him this year. He is actually getting in on pucks and putting pressure in defensively. He is playing with a lot of confidence right now and for Pens fans that should be exciting.

Kessel still carries a +/- rating of -1 but with how the team has played recently, that’s not so bad. He is focused and tuned in for the rest of the season.

Maybe it’s the magic of his long hair and receding hairline. All we know is everyone loves Phil Kessel and his 2 Stanley cup rings!

COLUMN: Earth To Malkin, Kessel

It’s been fun to watch a couple guys for various reasons so far this season.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed how good Bryan Rust has been through the first five games. He is absolutely flying out there. Carl Hagelin is doing much of the same except a little less success on the score sheet.

I have liked the play of all the guys who got extensions in the offseason. Brain Dumoulin has been good. Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz much of the same.

I’ve marveled seeing Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel return this season with the same magic they had last season. You can add Patric Hornqvist‘s return from hand surgery to an inspired group of hockey players.

Kris Letang finally returning. Greg McKegg earning a roster spot out of camp. Matt Murray returning for his “sophomore” season, technically. There have been lots of encouraging stories to come from the Penguins’ early 2-2-1 start to the season.

As all these awesome stories play out, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have been nothing but bystanders to it all.

There is a lot of money and expectations tied up between these two Pittsburgh folk legends for them to be making a very minimal, if not opaque, impact on what the team has done in the first five games.

Between the two of them, they have seven points on the season. Rust alone has seven point and leads the team. Captain Crosby, who’s been everything you’d want from your captain in the early going, has six points by himself.

But, hockey isn’t just about the score sheet and getting points. Yes, you don’t win without them, but you can make an impact away from the puck as well. Kessel and Malkin both have not had a game yet where they stood out amongst everybody on either team.

To Kessel’s credit, he was one of the better players in the Nashville game which the Penguins inevitably won in shutout fashion. That same game, I can’t recall hearing much of Malkin’s name being called.

I’m not one to call out someone’s work ethic. I am not, by any means, calling Malkin lazy because he is far from it. He is one of the most driven hockey players in the league and Penguins fans have seen first hand what happens when Malkin gets locked in. Perhaps, you’re a “I’d rather him exert himself in April and beyond, not now” person, which is understandable. But I have yet to even notice Malkin make an impact in any of the Penguins five games so far. I’m not worried about him. I’m just wondering if he knows the season started.

Kessel is a different story.

I predicted a 30 goal, 80 point season for Kessel. It really just had a feel that was right. Two Stanley Cups later, maybe that would drive Kessel to have his best season yet and help drive the Penguins to something historic. This is what Kessel is and does. He plays when he wants to. He is a guy who will fill the back of the net with goals, but they come in spurts. He can score in six straight games. He’ll then counter that with a 10-game goal drought.

I am not worried about either of them. They will turn it up eventually and I will shut my mouth. But to make $9.5 million (Malkin) and $6.8 million (Kessel); I don’t think they should escape criticism just because of their star status.

The Penguins are already short at center depth. If there was ever a time for Malkin to play up to the standards he is capable of, it is now until they find a better third-line center than McKegg. For Kessel, just be more consistent. Don’t be so sporadic in scoring goals. Do it with more consistency and I promise you, this team won’t have anything to worry about.