PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel scored a pair of goals Thursday night to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-1 win and the organization’s 13th consecutive playoff berth. Despite statistics which would be the envy of most players, few would argue Kessel has been a force this season including Kessel.
Thursday night Kessel had three points including a pair of goals which elevated his season point total to 82 and his goal total to 27.
“This year has been a cold year for me in the goal scoring department. It’s nice to get a couple of goals,” Kessel said as he shifted around in his typical self effacing, partly uncomfortable and partly disinterested media scrum.
It must have felt nice as weeks ago Kessel admitted his confidence dipped. Until Tuesday night, Kessel had not scored an even strength goal since Jan. 30 which was a period more than 60 days. He led the Penguins in total points over the past 10 games but the goal total was also a goose egg.
Kessel has not only struggled to score but also hold onto the puck. In 81 games, Kessel has 74 giveaways. That total is the third worst total of his career.
It’s been that kind of frustrating year for Kessel. But enough of the negative. Kessel was a force Thursday night. The winger crashed the net for the Penguins first goal, which was a power-play tally. Then he also showed the patience and poise befitting one of the highest scoring right wings of this generation for his second goal.
After Evgeni Malkin won an offensive zone faceoff, Kessel darted from wall to the slot. He created an open shot lane and snapped a vintage wrist shot past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard who was brilliant until that point.
The eyes say that Kessel was more determined and worked to find the open shots Thursday night but Kessel didn’t necessarily agree as he deadpanned, “I don’t really change. A couple went in, right?”
“I was cold, you know? Whenever you’re cold like that, your confidence has to dip a little bit but it was nice to get a couple and hopefully they keep going in,” Kessel said.
Phil Kessel is not one to waste words when dealing with us media folk, either. What was his reaction to the Penguins finally making the playoffs?
“It’s nice. We’ve got a good team here. We’ll see who we play coming up and give it our all,” he offered.