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Penguins, Phil Kessel learn from power-play mistakes |

Penguins, Phil Kessel learn from power-play mistakes

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, January 19, 2019 6:30 a.m
Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) celebrates his overtime goal against the Arizona Coyotes with center Sidney Crosby (87) and defenseman Kris Letang (58) in an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. The Penguins won 3-2.

When the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up their league-leading 10th shorthanded goal of the season last Saturday in Los Angeles, coach Mike Sullivan seethed.

He wasn’t angry that his world-class first power-play unit turned pucks over. That happens to the best of them.

He was angry because his team wasn’t learning from its mistakes.

“Let’s heed the lessons,” Sullivan said. “If we do turn the puck over, we’ve got to have a level of urgency to defend that we haven’t shown to this point.”

Six days later, his top power play was given an opportunity to show if the heeding process had begun.

With just over a minute left in overtime, a puck got away from Kris Letang near the right point and popped out toward the red line. Arizona’s Derek Stepan was in hot pursuit and a breakaway seemed imminent.

Suddenly, from the opposite wing, a white jersey flashed through the neutral zone. It was Phil Kessel.

By the time Stepan reached the left faceoff dot at the other end of the ice, Kessel had caught up to him. He knocked the puck off the Arizona forward’s stick to end the threat.

Seconds later, Kessel tipped in a Sidney Crosby shot to give the Penguins a 3-2 overtime win that snapped a two-game losing streak late Friday night.

Exactly one month earlier, former Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis went on French-Canadian television and said Sullivan’s message wasn’t getting through to Kessel and Evgeni Malkin.

On Friday night, interestingly enough, Kessel was the one doing the heeding. He was the one showing the urgency to defend.

The overtime win was a critical one too. If the Penguins had lost, they would have gone into Vegas on Saturday night staring at the very real possibility of carrying a four-game losing streak into a week-long break.

Instead, they have a chance to finish a five-game western road trip with a winning record and keep pace in a tight Metropolitan Division race.

Here are three other things we learned from Friday night’s game.

1. Goaltending decisions

Before the game, Sullivan was faced with a decision that would have sounded awfully familiar to any high school wrestling coach.

The Penguins were starting a set of back-to-back games in Arizona and Vegas. His best chance to win both games probably would have meant starting back-up Casey DeSmith against the less-formidable Coyotes and saving starter Matt Murray for the more powerful Golden Knights.

That, of course, also would have been his best chance to lose both games.

Instead, Sullivan decided to try to win the game right in front of him and worry about the next one afterwards.

Murray got his team the bonus point Friday night with a strong 30-save performance. Now Sullivan will likely ask DeSmith to go out against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights and stay off his back.

2. Better Brassard

As his name swirls in trade rumors, Derick Brassard had a solid effort Friday night while playing on a line with Dominik Simon and Tanner Pearson. He forced a turnover that led to Juuso Riikola’s power-play goal in the second period. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins had a 6-2 edge in scoring chances.

“It was awesome tonight,” Brassard said. “We were on the same page. We were supporting each other.”

3. Lucky charm

Riikola isn’t a starting pitcher, so it probably isn’t all that useful to keep track of his win-loss record, but when he’s played this season, the Penguins are 16-5-3. When he’s been scratched, they’re 10-10-3.

Sullivan was impressed with his power-play goal.

“It was a bomb,” Sullivan said. “He can really shoot the puck.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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