PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel was benched for the first time in his Pittsburgh Penguins career, last Saturday. The Penguins sniper instead filled the net Thursday with a pair of power-play goals (15, 16) and a primary assist as the Penguins beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena.
And the crowd chanted “We want Phil,” in the waning moments of the game when Kessel wasn’t on the ice.
Derick Brassard also had a pair of goals including the empty-net goal. The Penguins have won four in a row and six of their last seven games.
“I thought it was their best game since we put them together,” said Sullivan said of Kessel and Brassard. “It just makes our team that much harder to play against.”
Things didn’t start well for the Penguins. Detroit controlled the first period.
In the middle of the second Penguins power play finally got the Penguins engine running. A nifty backhand dish from Sidney Crosby to Phil Kessel at the Detroit blue line sprang Kessel uncontested to the Detroit net. Kessel (15) cut laterally and slipped it five-hole for a power play goal.
“Tonight, I thought we moved it better, we shot the puck sometimes,” said Kessel. “If we keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”
Just 1:14 later, Kessel again was the man behind the Penguins attack. From the right wing, Kessel snapped a shot-pass of center Derick Brassard’s skates. Brassard (5) got credit for the goal and the Penguins got a 2-1 lead.
After a Trevor Daley tripping penalty, Kessel put the icing on the Penguins holiday cake as he blistered a wrister past Howard late in the second period. It was his third point and second goal of the period. As if fans don’t love Kessel enough, the goal also won the crowd a free Big Mac frMcDonald’slds.
Kessel laughed, “I heard that on the board. I hope they all get it tomorrow.”
Detroit poses the type of pesky challenge which has bedeviled the Penguins this season. Detroit is a young, fast team which pursued the puck for 200 feet, stepped forward in the neutral zone and offensive zone to create suffocating puck pressure against the Penguins.
Detroit allowed nary a great scoring chance by the Penguins in the first period.
Detroit speedster Dylan Larkin who leads the team in goals scored first. He was uncovered in the right wing circle by the line of Dominik Simon-Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. Larkin (16) sniped the top corner over Penguins goalie Matt Murray’s shoulder for the only goal of the first period.
The Penguins finally gained the upper hand after they led, 2-1. They limited Detroit to just seven shots in the second period, three of which came in the final five minutes of the period. The Penguins peppered Howard with 14 shots in the second period and kept Detroit one step behind.
The Penguins fourth goal was the first without Early in the third period, Patric Hornqvist (13) deflected Jack Johnson’s point-blast. The goal marked Marcus Pettersson’s first point.
Detroit did pull within one, 3-2 in the opening minutes of the third period. A classic Evgeni Malkin turnover while over-stickhandling at the offensive blue line gave Andreas Athanasiou (12) a breakaway goal.
Detroit did hit the post or crossbar four times. Defenseman Filip Hronek beat Murray twice but was denied by the cage. Murray stopped 26 of 28 shots. The Penguins eventually peppered Howard with 39 shots (40 shots total). He stopped 35.