PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin expects one thing from slumping right wing Phil Kessel in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday.
"[He'll] score," Malkin said bluntly. "I mean, it's his time to score. We know he's a great player and he likes to play in tough situations. Now it's time for leadership to show, good games. Time to score."
Kessel has yet to score in four games against the Nashville Predators. He hasn't scored in six straight games overall and has one goal in his past nine games going into Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
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The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.
However, Kessel had two shots on goal and eight total shot attempts in the Penguins' 4-1 loss in Game 4 on Monday. It was hardly a vintage Kessel performance but in many ways it was his best game of the series because he finally appeared to be looking to shoot more.
"Last game I think he showed [his] best game in this series," Malkin said. "I see he is like ice. He plays so hard and I believe it. I feel [Thursday] he'll show great game."
Boy, the Penguins could use it. They've lost back-to-back games against the Predators and the only players to score are rookie forward Jake Guentzel in Game 3 and center Sidney Crosby in Game 4.
A goal from Kessel would go a long way in Game 5.
It would alleviate at least a small percentage of the pressure on Crosby and Malkin, who is also without a goal in his past two games. It would also take some of the pressure off of the Penguins' depth players, even Guentzel, who missed on several Grade-A chances in Game 4 and knew if he connected on one of them it could have turned the game in a different direction.
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"It's getting closer," Kessel said. "I always get a chance or two, just got to make 'em count."
Kessel either passed up on chances or didn't use his wrist shot, which is easily one of the best in the NHL, enough in the first three games, especially coming off of the left-wing wall when the Penguins were on the power play.
He still passed up on some of those chances early in Game 4, but developed more of a shooter's mentality as the game went on.
His only shot attempt in the first period was on goal at 16:19. He had another shot on goal on the Penguins' power play early in the second period and then continued to look for his shot, generating six more attempts.
The coaches obviously recognized his mindset too. Kessel played 25 shifts totaling 20:53 in Game 4. He averaged 20 shifts and 15:21 per game in the first three games of the series, when he had seven shots on goal and 11 total attempts.
"I had some chances," Kessel said. "I missed a couple shots that I probably don't want to miss. They're good chances. It is what it is. You want to bury 'em, but sometimes they don't go in."
Kessel said typically when he gets into a scoring slump he just continues to play his game and works out of it. That means he has to look to shoot all the time. Shooting is his game because he has one of the quickest and best shots in the League, especially his wrist shot.
In fact, even though Kessel was better in Game 4, two shots on goal aren't enough. You could even argue that eight shot attempts aren't enough, at least not at this stage of the series.
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"When he shoots good things happen, whether it's him scoring or for other guys," Crosby said. "He's got a great shot. It's hard for goalies to handle. If he's getting those looks I like the chances of the puck going in."
Crosby gave credit to Kessel for trying to be a playmaker too, but a selfish Kessel has a better chance of helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.
"He's probably trying to find that balance," Crosby said, "but with his shot…you'd want to use it as much as you can with a shot like that."
Malkin expects Kessel to use it Thursday. It's a reasonable expectation. So is expecting him to Kessel score. That's what he's supposed to do.
"[He's waited a] long time," Malkin said. "He [hasn't scored] in a long time. But now it's time."