It was an idea that the Pens coaching staff had been considering for a few days, considering the team had scored only two goals in the past three games.
A move that would reunite center Sidney Crosby with winger Phil Kessel for the first time since the third week of the season.
“It was more my gut feeling that maybe this would work,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Sometimes when players don’t play together for a while and you put them together there is a spark. Our hope was that would occur.
“We felt the time was probably right given the fact that we struggled to generate goal scoring for a few games in a row that if we tweaked it we may get a spark.”
The spark worked. Kessel scored two goals and Crosby chipped in a goal and an assist in the Pens’ 6-3 victory against the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
The two players didn’t know about the adjustment until right before the game’s opening puck drop.
“Right before the game in our meeting we found out,” Kessel said. “(Crosby is) going really good. He’s carrying our team right now. I just hop on, right?”
That was the case on Kessel’s first goal of the night.
The Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin had just scored to tie the game at 2-2 in the second period. Kessel answered for Pittsburgh with the go-ahead goal just 24 seconds later.
Crosby fed Kessel the puck and he snapped in a shot far side and low that eluded netminder Petr Mrzek.
“(Crosby) made a good pass to me on the first one,” Kessel said.
Kessel’s second goal would give Pittsburgh a 5-2 lead in the third period. He was skating through the slot as defenseman Olli Maatta released a shot. Kessel collected the rebound and swooped around Mrzek and deposited the puck into the net.
“To get some goals right off the bat is a good boost,” Crosby said. “Off the rush I think we did some good things. We want to get more zone time. Game to game, if you’re able to do that, create some chances and force mistakes, you give yourself a better chance to be consistent.”
The goals were Kessel’s 17th and 18th of the season, meaning he is just two shy of hitting the 20-goal mark for the eighth time.
“Phil is a goal scorer. He can really shoot the puck,” Sullivan said. “Regardless of who ‘Sid’ plays with, Sid is a guy that will make everybody around him better. That’s the nature of his game.”
After the Pens acquired Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer during his NHL career, fans were salivating at the prospect of Kessel being paired with legitimate setup men in Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Kessel began the year with Crosby. However, three weeks later he was moved to Malkin’s line, where he remained until Thursday night. Now that he’s back with Crosby, it will take some time for the two to build some chemistry.
“We didn’t play together that long, like seven games,” Kessel said. “It takes time to get used to each other and read off of each other.”
While there were lofty expectations for offensive production entering the season with Kessel’s acquistion, now the focus of the players is less about putting up big numbers and more on winning games due to their precarious playoff situation – currently they are sitting in a Wild Card position.
“At that point everyone had predictions. Now it’s just all about winning,” Crosby said. “That’s the focus. That’s all we’re worried about.”