The Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center, and Phil Kessel led the way scoring two goals for the fifth time this season. Kessel, who was just named NHL Third Star of the week the previous week following a five point night (1G-4A) in Detroit on March 26, now has four goals and nine points in his past four games.
“I think when you play good as a team everyone benefits, and we seem to be going right now,” Kessel said about his recent success.
There has been some concern about the second line ever since Evgeni Malkin was put on injury reserve with an upper-body injury on March 12, but they have certainly proved their worth the past couple of games.
Nick Bonino has been doing his part at center earning eight points (3G-5A) in his last five games, and Kessel and Carl Hagelin bring a ton of speed up the wings. The line has a combined total of 22 points in their last four games.
“I think Phil is playing really hard right now,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s using his feet. I think his speed is noticeable on most shifts that he plays out there. He’s dangerous off the rush. He’s getting involved underneath the hash marks with the cycle game and that type of offense. He’s a threat consistently. I think the other guys certainly compliment him. ‘Hagey’ brings a ton of speed, chases loose pucks down and can get Phil the puck in certain situations. And ‘Bones’ is a similar guy real good instincts and sees the ice well.”
Early in the first period, Bonino made a great heads-up play that turned into a tic-tac-toe goal for Kessel. Bonino picked up a loose puck near the blue line, and he made a behind-the-back pass to Justin Schultz. Schultz then found Kessel waiting on the backdoor for an easy tap-in goal.
“Just a little bit of a weird bounce off the boards, and I just knew he (Schultz) had some room over there, and he yelled at me,” Bonino said. “So I just tried my best to put it over there, and he made a great pass to Phil.”
“That was a great play,” Kessel said. “He (Schultz) faked everyone out and gave me a tap in.”
Kessel’s second goal was an absolute snipe. He utilized his speed to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and with a quick release, he sent the puck soaring over the blocker of Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne and into the top corner. He fired the puck off his stick so quickly that it seemed like there was no doubt it was going in, but Kessel wasn’t too sure.
“In this league the goalies are so good that you never know,” Kessel explained. “Obviously I was fortunate on that one because he’s a real good goalie.”
His teammates seemed pretty confident in his shot though.
“He’s fun to watch,” Patric Hornqvist said about Kessel. “That shot he had when he was coming with speed on the right side it’s crazy. You see it release off his stick then it ends up in the back of the net it’s so hard. He’s been really good for us.”
“That shot he had was a missile right from the front of our bench,” Bonino said. “When he’s skating that fast and shooting that hard it’s good.”