Skip to main content
Stanley Cup Final

Penguins want Phil Kessel to shoot in Game 4 against Predators

Pittsburgh assistant coach Rick Tocchet tells forward to be more selfish in Stanley Cup Final

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / NHL.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE -- The conversation between Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel and assistant Rick Tocchet lasted a few minutes, at least two full slow laps around the rink before practice started at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday.

"We talked about the power play," Tocchet said after practice ended.

The power play is a sore subject for the Penguins these days. It's 1-for-13 with four shots on goal in the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators. The Penguins were 0-for-3 with one shot on goal in a 5-1 loss in Game 3 on Saturday. They were 0-for-7 with two shots in Game 2.

Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

 

[RELATED: Bonino hopes to play Game 4 | Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage]

 

Kessel, who hasn't scored since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final and has two goals in the past 12 games, is a huge part of the Penguins power play. He's also not shy with his opinion, especially with Tocchet, who may be his most important confidant in the organization.

They talk all the time. Sometimes, Tocchet said he just lets Kessel vent. Sometimes, it's a debate. There's always a give and take, as there was Sunday.

"What I love about it is we'll disagree and it's not heated," Tocchet said. "For instance, we talked about the power play, but at the end of the day he sees the game the way I see it and we come to a conclusion."

Video: CBC broadcaster Don Cherry on the Stanley Cup Final

The conclusion to this conversation was the Penguins don't need to change the structure, system or the players on their power play to have success. Instead, they, Kessel in particular, need to recognize the chances they get when they get them so they can take advantage of them.

"My feeling with him is he had three really good chances off the wall and I said, 'You get those three chances again, I'll take it right now,'" Tocchet said. "One he got a shot blocked, one he tried to [pass the puck] low, which was the right play, one he kind of flubbed [the shot]. Those are three quality chances and you give Phil Kessel those three every game, he's going to make a play. That's why he has so many power-play points, because he makes those plays. I just told him to relax, we don't have to change the power play because of a few mishaps. And he agreed with me."

But Tocchet didn't stop there in his conversation with Kessel. It's never just one thing and a quick conclusion. That's why they did more than one lap around the ice.

He also emphasized the need for Kessel to have a take-charge mindset on the power play. He doesn't want Kessel, who has one of the best wrist shots in the NHL, to look for the pass, as he has been doing at times against the Predators, a reason why he hasn't gotten more chances.

"A guy with that caliber of shot, very rarely he should be looking to pass," Tocchet said. "He's an unselfish guy, but he's got to be selfish in these moments. If he gets those three chances again, I think he's got to come off the wall and really rip 'em."

Tocchet said he told Kessel to visualize doing that so he can be prepared to act quickly when he gets into the same situation on Monday.

Video: Mike Johnson adds some insight on the series thus far

"Once the puck goes from one side and you know it's going to come to your side, you've got to think in your head, 'When I get it, unless somebody is wide open or somebody has a backdoor play, I'm getting it and I'm ripping it,'" Tocchet said, repeating what he told Kessel. "When he's got that mentality, he has a special shot. When he catches it and looks to see if somebody is open before he rips it, that's when the hesitation comes in.

"I don't care who you are and in what sport, great players, they get into that visualization mode. He's got to get back into that, into thinking, 'Hey, I'm Phil Kessel, I've got a great shot.' When that puck goes from one side to the other and Nashville is overextended, it's got to be a shoot mentality."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said it's been a work in progress from the coaching staff to help Kessel get that part of his game back.

"He's certainly at his best when he's in that mindset," Sullivan said.

At even strength too, Tocchet stressed.

"If he's going down the wing and he's in around the dots, unless it's a 2-on-1 and he's got somebody wide open he should be ripping it," Tocchet said. "I told Phil if you do that early in the game, it's amazing how the game comes to you. If you pass those shots up in the first couple of periods, it kind of closes your mind."

The Penguins need Kessel to play with an open mind, the puck on his stick and a selfish attitude. When he does, that's when he's a real difference maker for them. When he doesn't, the results are what they have been for Kessel. No goals. Little impact.

"I just think if he has that home run attitude, that let me swing the bat, I'm not looking to hit a single, I want to hit a home run attitude, that's when he's really got it," Tocchet said. "So I just reminded him, 'Hey, shoot.'"

View More