Phil Kessel is simple and always Phil Kessel. While athletes practice monochromatic responses to avoid prying media attention or avoid controversy, Kessel simply shrugs and answers questions however he sees fit. While is offense has gone stone cold, his media presence remains a breath of fresh air.
Monday, Kessel used his rare media appearance to praise linemate Evgeni Malkin who is closing on 1000 career points but was also blunt about his recent struggles.
“Me? I don’t know. It feels like I’m not going to score again this year. It happens, I guess,” Kessel said. “I’ve never… It has been an interesting run the last couple, or last month I’ll say. Hopefully, it changes.”
Kessel has not scored a goal since Jan. 30. He has eight assists in his last 10 games, but his play has been spotty. Along with Malkin, the Penguins second line has struggled mightily to find consistency on the score sheet and with productive play. Too many nights, the Penguins have a void in the middle of their lineup.
Kessel recently went through a stretch in which he had one shot or less in 10 of 13 games, though he has 20 shots in his last five games including six in the Stadium Series game…but no goals.
“I don’t know. I’ve had some chances. It won’t go in, right? It is what it is,” Kessel shrugged. “One game, hopefully, I get three or something. It happens like that. You need one and go from there.”
“As a line, we’re getting some good looks and chances. Soon, hopefully, they start falling.”
Yes, the Penguins would like a few more of those Kessel shots to start falling. Once an ancillary piece, Kessel is now a primary source of offense for the Penguins, who are embroiled in a difficult playoff battle. The Penguins are tied with Montreal, as each rest in a wild-card position. The Penguins are one point behind Carolina for third place in the Metro but just two ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who are the first team out of the playoff seedings.
Kessel’s shot volume increase hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.
“Yes. We have noticed it. It is significant. And if he continues to shoot the puck, he’ll score and that’s how we feel,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “When players of that talent are shooting the puck and getting quality looks, it’s only a matter of time before the puck goes in the net.”
As Malkin shakes his slump, perhaps it will rub off on Kessel, too.
“(Malkin) is a big guy, right? He’s got skills, sees the game well. Shoots the puck well, I guess when you do everything good, it’s easy,” Kessel laughed.
The Penguins can only hope things get easier for Kessel. With just 17 games remaining and a hopeful Stanley Cup push, the Penguins are no longer the class of the field. They cannot afford ineffective key players. One thing is for sure, it doesn’t sound like Kessel has been KO’d by his slump as other players have been.
Last season, Conor Sheary became mired in a slump which took a mental toll, and this season Malkin at times seemed dejected about his game.
Nope, Kessel is Kessel. In this case, that may be a good thing.