In his latest article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, columnist Ron Cook addresses the biggest shortcoming for the Pittsburgh Penguins through their first three games of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: the disappearance of Phil Kessel.
Put another way by Cook:
So when is Phil Kessel going to join the Penguins playoff party?
The dynamic Penguins winger has just one assist through the team’s first three playoff games against the Philadelphia Flyers, after scoring 34 goals and 92 points in 82 regular season games this year. Going back to the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kessel has just one goal in his past 11 postseason games.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan isn’t quite sure what the problem is, but it’s clear that he’s concerned. After putting Kessel back on a line with center Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins head coach called the move “an opportunity to get Phil going a little bit.” After the game he would go on to say that he thought Tuesday was Kessel’s his best game of the series.
“They can be dynamic,” Sullivan said of both Kessel and Malkin. “They’re two elite players that, when they have the puck, they’re as dangerous a tandem as there is in the league. They’ve shown an ability to play well together in the past.”
So, again… what gives? What’s the deal with Kessel and when can we finally expect him to break out? Pens fans will certainly love Cook’s prediction:
I’m thinking Wednesday night in Philadelphia for Game 4 against the Flyers would be the perfect time. That seems especially true because Patric Hornqvist isn’t going to play. The Penguins are going to need more than Kessel gave them in the first three games, maybe not to take out the Flyers but to make a serious run at a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
For what it’s worth, Kessel certainly seems poised for a big game tonight. In fairness, he could have easily had a two point game last game were it not for captain Sidney Crosby flubbing an empty net attempt off a sweet feed from Kessel. Kessel, a severely underrated playmaker, also managed to set up Derick Brassard for a goal earlier in the game. So, while he’s not exactly lighting the lamp, he is managing to make an impact offensively. But, Penguins fans know that Kessel’s true impact is lying just below the surface. Will it break out tonight? We certainly hope so.
Let’s go, Phil!