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Penguins' Kessel focused on winning, not revenge

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel said there's no animosity from him toward the Toronto Maple Leafs.

However, Kessel did say he wouldn't mind defeating the team that traded him to Pittsburgh on July 1 when the Penguins play the Maple Leafs on Saturday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; CITY).

Kessel's desire for a win doesn't stem from a need to get one over on Toronto, but from a desire for his new team to win its second consecutive game following its worst start in a decade.

MAPLE LEAFS ON FACING KESSEL

"I've played a bunch of games so it's not a big deal," Kessel said. "Obviously I loved my time in Toronto. I had a great time there. I have a lot of friends there. I love the city. But it's time to move on.

"I don't care [about the media attention he'll receive]. I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win [Saturday] and try to play my best. And whatever happens, happens."

The Penguins began the season with three consecutive losses, their worst start since 2005-06, when they lost their first nine games (0-4-5) en route to finishing 29th in the League with a 22-46-14 record. The Penguins avoided extending their losing streak with a 2-0 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, but they have yet to score more than two goals in a game this season.

Enter the Maple Leafs, who could provide the matchup the Penguins need in order to break out offensively. The Maple Leafs entered their game Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets 24th in the League with 3.67 goals allowed per game on their way to a 0-2-1 start to the season.

"I played with them so I know how most of them play," Kessel said. "But I think they obviously have different systems in place there now than when I was there. So I'm just going to go out and play."

Kessel is adamant that he'll treat the game Saturday like any other. But defenseman Ian Cole said he thinks emotions naturally will factor into Kessel's performance. Cole, who was traded to Pittsburgh from the St. Louis Blues on March 2, said he was out to prove something the first time he faced his former team.

"It was certainly very intense," Cole said. "You obviously want to go and prove to the team that just traded you, like, 'Wow you guys just made a mistake,' right? So for me, we played them within the first two weeks, I think, after I got traded. And it was something where it was very emotional. But at the same time you have good friends.

"But you kind of park that and try to prove to them that they made a mistake trading you."

When the Penguins played the Senators on Thursday, it was one day after the Senators had won 7-3 at the Blue Jackets. Saturday will see the Penguins with another opponent traveling to Pittsburgh in the second game of a back-to-back.

While they attempt to build chemistry, the Penguins can take advantage of an early schedule that has them in the middle of a five-game home stretch, which began with a loss against the Montreal Canadiens before the win against the Senators. The top line in particular can use this stretch to gain needed consistency; Kessel has one goal and one assist while Crosby and Chris Kunitz have been held without a point.

There had been stretches, even before their first win Thursday, where the Penguins seemed like the offensive powerhouse many expect them to become. Their second period against the Canadiens, when they were able to come back from two one-goal deficits, stands out.

In order for the Penguins to challenge the rest of the Metropolitan Division, that level of play must become more the rule and less the exception.

"I think we're going to get going here eventually, right?" Kessel said. "We hoped for a better start. But it's a long year and we're going to get going. We had some good chances [against the Canadiens]. I thought we played a decent game. But again, it doesn't matter. You have to get the [wins]. If we keep playing like that I'm sure we're going to win games, right?

"We got some good looks. We just have to bury some opportunities."

The Penguins are hoping they can continue to achieve some of those good looks against Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, who has allowed five goals on 37 shots in two games. In his last game, he let in three goals on nine shots in a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 9.

Penguins coach Mike Johnston said he would like to see his offense ignite for the first time this season, and views Kessel as a potential key contributor.

"I'm sure [Kessel] is going to be really excited for [Saturday]," Johnston said. "So it’s going to be a really good matchup. I remember last year, we went into Toronto, there always seems to be a little rivalry between Pittsburgh and Toronto.

"They're exciting games and this brings more attention to it."

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