Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It should. On paper, it’s the perfect blend of a defensively responsible playmaker and a sharpshooter who doesn’t so much enjoy the hockey in the defensive zone — two good skaters who should blend like peas and carrots. Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard have given it a go.
And the pair stunk.
And so it took Evgeni Malkin’s frustration and need for a pick me up to finally bust up the Brassard-Kessel pairing. The Penguins coaches reunited Malkin with Kessel to give the forlorn Russian center a little boost. And at least for one game in Arizona, it worked. Malkin and Kessel led the Penguins scoring chance brigade.
Kessel was on the ice for 14 chances-for, and just three-against.
And the Brassard-Kessel line should be no more. Never again. For however long Brassard remains with the team, a few more months, weeks or days, it just doesn’t work to put Kessel on that line.
The logic behind the creation of Brassard-Kessel was solid. The Penguins are better with three scoring lines. Malkin doesn’t need Kessel and Kessel shouldn’t need Malkin. But the best laid plans of mice and men…
Brassard has been the subject of trade talks for at least a couple weeks, as Pittsburgh Hockey Now has confirmed. Friday night Brassard skated with Tanner Pearson on the left and Dominik Simon on the right.
“It was awesome tonight. (The linemates) were on the page. We were supporting each other. We didn’t give much in our own end as well,” Brassard said.
You can almost see the contrast with his time Kessel leap off the page. Brassard and his linemates generated six scoring chances but allowed just two. The trio was noticeable; they passed the eye test with soaring colors.
“In the second period, we spent some time in the offensive zone. We were all strong on pucks and stuff like that,” Brassard continued. “I feel like if we keep playing that way, we’re going to get rewarded.”
Simply by playing well, they have already rewarded the team and fans. It was painful to watch Brassard and Kessel. Utterly painful to watch two players become lesser than the sum of their parts.
It’s not the first time this season Simon has been the catalyst for Brassard. The same occurred in November before the Brassard-Kessel pairing. Simon has been a boon to Penguins centers not named Sidney Crosby. To Brassard, Simon has been a shot of nitro.
If you read the linked piece above which we wrote on Nov. 27, you can see that Simon boosted Brassard’s Corsi rating by 18 points. That’s not a typo. With Simon, Brassard had a 60 percent Corsi. Without him, 42 percent. Stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com
The pair has slipped to 50 percent in intermittent play since but Brassard is still a 42 percent Corsi player without Simon. In other words, that line also needs to stick together.
“I liked that line tonight. They were on pucks. They stayed close in the offensive zone, they supported one another and had some chances,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “I still think they could shoot the puck a little more. I’d like to see them put more pucks on the net.”
It’s a shrewd and fair evaluation of their game. Whereas Brassard and Kessel would literally be at opposite ends of the rink, Simon and Brassard are in constant contact, ready to assist with a puck battle or available for a pass. They have real chemistry. Pearson should finish off a couple of chances in the near future, but only six chances is a little light.
Simon has chemistry with all of the Penguins centers. As Brassard likes to joke–the lines could change tomorrow. And they might. But they shouldn’t again include a Brassard-Kessel pairing.
The Penguins are better off.