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Penguins

Penguins Prediction Rewind: Phil Kessel still among game's elite scorers

Jonathan Bombulie
| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, 5:06 a.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) celebrates his game winning goal against the Senators in the third period during game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Monday, May 15, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) celebrates his game winning goal against the Senators in the third period during game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Monday, May 15, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Note: Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2017-18 season. Some of them were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.

THE PREDICTION

Phil Kessel will score fewer than 25 goals for the second straight season.

THE RATIONALE

— In his youth, Kessel routinely took 300 shots per season. That total has dropped for each of the past three seasons, however, bottoming out at 229 shots last year.

— As long as he’s playing on a line with dangerous scorer Evgeni Malkin and acting as a facilitator on the left half-wall of a power play with multiple weapons, the temptation to pass rather than shoot might be too great for Kessel to pass up.

READER REACTION

Seventy-six percent of voters on Twitter thought Kessel would score more than 24 goals. Some sample comments from Facebook:

— “Phil gets it done when he’s on the ice. He’s a playoff performer first and foremost anyway. Who cares how many regular season goals he has as long as it’s not sub-20?”

— “He’s scored and assisted on many key goals in the playoffs/regular season and he’s a constant threat to score, taking away defensive cover from 87 & 71. I don’t know Bombulie, maybe we should just release him. Idiot!”

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

Kessel bounced back emphatically after three consecutive seasons with a goal total in the 20s, scoring 34 times. He also tacked on a career-high 58 assists for a personal-best 92-point season.

Kessel’s shot total went up to 261 and his shooting percentage went up to 13.0, a little better than his 10.8 percent career average.

He spent about half his season playing alongside Malkin at even strength and the other half with centers such as Riley Sheahan and Derick Brassard.

THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC

The easy cop-out would be to say that Kessel simply had more puck luck last season than a prognosticator could have been anticipated. His 13.0 shooting percentage was his best since a 15.5 percent season as a 21-year-old with Boston in 2008-09.

In reality, there was a little more going on than that. The flaw in the prediction was assuming that Kessel had become so enamored with his play-making ability that he would stop shooting the puck himself. It’s possible for a player to do both, especially a player with Kessel’s skill level. That’s what he did.

The poor prediction also failed to take into consideration how effective the Penguins’ power play would be. It led the league with a 26.2 percent success rate and Kessel scored 12 power-play goals, tying a career high set in 2010-11 in Toronto.

LESSONS LEARNED

Whether at the poker table or on the right wing with the puck on his stick, don’t bet against Kessel.

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

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

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