The assists had been coming for Phil Kessel. But the goals, not so much.
Entering Thursday's game against the New York Islanders at PPG Paints Arena, Kessel hadn't found the back of the net since Nov. 19 - a span of seven straight games. But thanks to some help from Sidney Crosby, Kessel broke the streak and scored twice in Pittsburgh's 6-2 win. Oh, and he piled up a couple more helpers as well.
"It's the same stuff every year. I go through these little dry patches and it is what it is," Kessel said with a wry smile after the game. "I didn't have many shots the last bunch of games so I didn't really expect to score."
Looks like all he needed was some time alongside the captain. Kessel had been playing on a line with Derick Brassard and Zach Aston-Reese, but after Patric Hornqvist left the game after the first period with an injury head coach Mike Sullivan moved him up next to Crosby and Jake Guentzel. Crosby proceeded to set Kessel up on both the power play and at even strength.
Video: NYI@PIT: Kessel caps rapid passing play for PPG
"I got a couple tap-ins from Sid. It's nice to get those, right?" Kessel said. "I thought we had some good shifts and some bad shifts, but we haven't played together very much and if we play together, you just try to have the best game you can."
Kessel's first goal came on a power play in the second period. Kessel finished off a tic-tac-toe play into an open net that went from Evgeni Malkin to Guentzel to Crosby, who threaded a pass across the crease. On the second goal, Crosby again squeezed a pass across the blue paint to Kessel at the side of the open net.
When asked what was going through his mind on those plays, Kessel said it's pretty simple.
"Don't miss it, right?" he responded with a laugh. "I missed a couple this year, actually. Those are easy ones and try not to miss them."
For Crosby, he said Kessel is dangerous to score anywhere inside the blue line and knows the winger is going to find those areas.
"He's really good at just reading where he needs to be on the ice," Crosby said. "Whether that's high in a scoring position or off to the side of the net. You see a couple of times tonight he's off to the side of the net. He's just really smart. He knows where to go to score goals. He did a really good job of generating goals and generating some chances tonight."
Video: NYI@PIT: Kessel, Crosby combine for another goal
Not to be outdone, Kris Letang also scored twice after collecting a pair of assists in Tuesday's 6-3 win over Colorado.
While Kessel's goals came in the second period, Letang's goals came in the first period. So in the locker room during the second intermission, Kessel said the topic of hat tricks was definitely discussed.
"I would've liked to see him get it," Kessel said. "I asked him before the third if he ever got one and he said no. It would've been nice for him to get another one."
It wasn't for lack of trying on his teammates' part. Letang laughed after the game that Kessel and Crosby in particular were trying to get him his first hat trick since his junior days.
"I had a couple two-goal games in the NHL that I was close," he said. "Everybody tonight was trying to get it to me. I was thinking about it. I felt it. Like Sid and Phil were trying to get me the puck as much as they could. Maybe for another time."
Overall, there was plenty of puck to go around in the win as 10 different players got on the scoresheet, with four of them recording multiple-point efforts.
"I think everyone has been chipping in," Crosby said. "Riley (Sheahan) got a big one there for us to get momentum back. Tanger stepped up early on, Phil with a couple. Everyone has got to contribute in their own ways. I thought we defended hard tonight and did a lot of good things."