Entering the final week of the NHL’s regular season schedule, it would be easy to say that the biggest headlines from Penguins season are injuries, the Marc-Andre Fleury/Matthew Murray debate, and the emergence of the young guns.
However, a story has been quietly percolating, under the surface and buried amongst the empty bandage boxes and exposed X-ray film, that litter the trainers room at the PPG Paints Arena.
That story is the production of right winger, nice guy, and Stanley Cup Champion – Phil Kessel.
At face value, scoring 1 goal in 22 games can be viewed by any measure or metric as a drought.
The focus shifts to the generic hockey questions that try to explain away such a dry spell. Has he lost his confidence? Why isn’t he shooting more? Is he playing through an injury?
Still plenty of “Power” in Phil Kessel‘s Play
If we take a deeper look, over the course of his career 828 game career, Kessel has averaged 3.34 Shots per game and in the past five games is averaging 2.8 shots (Season Average 3.05) not a significant difference. So let’s chalk it up to Kessel’s ever revolving cast of linemates and a string of bad luck.
The real story of Kessel’s season is how he has quietly developed into a power play specialist
This season, Kessel has collected 67 Points in 79 Games, 29 Points (8 goals – 21 assists) have come on the power play. A deeper look at the stats, shows us that the Penguins have converted 57 times on 250 opportunities this season, and Kessel has contributed on 51% of the conversions.
Comparison to Other Stars
Evgeni Malkin – 23 Points (11G-12A) on the Powerplay – 40%
Sidney Crosby – 23 Points (13G-10A) on the Powerplay – 40%
If the Penguins are to have any sustained post-season success, Kessel needs to keep on producing on the power play, generating offense and helping those around him, to convert on chances.
Look at the Season
Goal scoring woes aside, this season has had plenty of bright spots for Kessel.
A six game point streak December 20, 2016 – January 11, 2017 where he collected eight points (2 goals, 6 assists).
He has remained relatively unscathed on the injury plagued Penguins roster and currently is one of a handful of players to appear in over 600 consecutive games.
He tied his career high assist total with 45. It is the first time he has reached that mark since the 2011-2012 campaign. Kessel is set to finish the season with the third-best point total of his career.
With the playoffs right around the corner, it is the optimal time for Kessel to break out. He needs to start scoring some big goals when the Penguins will need them most.
As of right now though, no goals equals no problems, as he will continue to be a threat whenever he has the puck and will make opposing teams think twice about taking penalties.
After all, there is more to hockey than just scoring goals, right?
EDMONTON, AB – MARCH 10: Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot against the Edmonton Oilers on March 10, 2017 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)