Penguins Prediction Rewind: Magic wore off between Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel
Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season. Some were OK. Some were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.
Will Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel play better together or apart?
C. About the same
THE RIGHT ANSWER
• At this time last summer, Kessel and Malkin had played together for three seasons. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, they were great together. When they were on the ice as a tandem five on five, the Penguins outscored their opponents by a combined total of 56-30. In 2017-18, however, the Penguins were outscored 30-26 when 71 and 81 were on the ice at the same time. In other words, they’d been good together more than they’d been bad together.
• Aside from the HBK run during the 2016 playoffs, the idea of using Kessel to anchor a third line was better on paper than it was on the ice.
A sample of Facebook comments:
• “We constantly hear how popular (Kessel) is with teammates. Yet no one wants him on their line. The Pens have enough offense. They need a strong defensive forward. No, I don’t (know) who or from which team. That’s why the Pens have Rutherford to figure that out.”
• “Kessel and Geno can score goals and play great together. Just get a better defense around them.”
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
• Malkin and Kessel performed slightly better together than apart. So the prediction was correct, but not by much and not to the benefit of the Penguins in any real way.
• The Penguins just barely kept their heads above water in the 637 minutes Malkin and Kessel were on the ice together five on five. They outscored opponents, 30-27, and had a 50.3% shot-attempt percentage. This was nowhere near as good as 2015-17, and it doesn’t include the 12 shorthanded goals the Penguins gave up when the pair was on the ice together.
• The Penguins played a little worse than break-even hockey in the 829 minutes when Kessel and Malkin were on the ice separately at five on five. They played opponents to a 37-37 draw and had a 45.1% shot-attempt percentage.
THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC
• A poor performance from the pair of Malkin and Kessel in 2017-18 wasn’t an anomaly. It was an indication that the magic had worn off after two outstanding seasons together.
• The prediction was based on the assumption that Malkin and Kessel would have good seasons. It was just a question of whether they’d be better together or apart. In reality, neither had a good season at even strength, no matter who his linemates were.
• The idea that Kessel is a talented player who will eventually wear out his welcome sounds like a convenient excuse used by a management team or coaching staff that doesn’t want to look in the mirror and admit its mistakes. But in this case, the numbers seem to support the theory. The Malkin-Kessel combo was great for two years, then it wasn’t anymore.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .