Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has denied an alleged rift with Kessel that has been publicly simmering for the last six weeks. Reports surfaced in early May that Kessel was unhappy he wasn't given enough ice time on Evgeni Malkin's line. Then just before the NHL Entry Draft, another report suggested Kessel wasn't opposed to getting traded to another club. The Coyotes were named as a desirable destination. While he and Kessel have disagreed from time to time, Sullivan was quick to say, "A lot of what's been written ... has been false. I know where my relationship is with Phil, and I certainly have a comfort level with it. I think Phil does, too." Kessel posted a career-best 92-point effort this past year and has won two Cups. But this isn't the first time that attitudinal issues have surfaced about the shy, but intense sniper.
Kessel was dealing with a variety of injuries -- none of which will require surgery -- through the entire 2017-18 campaign. Despite being injured throughout the year, Kessel never missed a single game -- although he was a game-time decision a handful of times. The Madison, Wisconsin native's ironman streak extends all the way back to 2009-10 as to when he last sat out a contest. Even with the bumps and bruises, the winger set career highs in assists (58), points (92) and power-play points (42). Coach Mike Sullivan went on to say, "It was nothing significant," when pressed for more details regarding the nature of Kessel's injury, per Josh Yohe of The Athletic Pittsburgh. As such, the All-Star sniper should be ready to go for 2018-19.
Kessel's postseason came to a close Monday against Washington in the midst of a eight-game goal drought. Kessel -- who is known for his ability to snipe pucks into the twine -- failed to register a single goal in Pittsburgh's second-round matchup. Perhaps more concerning for fans and fantasy owners alike is the fact the winger managed just nine shots during those six contests. The Madison, Wisconsin native's ironman streak remains intact, as he hasn't missed a regular-season game since the 2009-10 campaign, when he was with Toronto. The 29-year-old set career highs in both assists (58) and points (92), along with an impressive 13.0 shooting percentage. While some will continue to question his work ethic, there is no doubt that Kessel can produce on the ice, which means fantasy owners can likely expect another high-scoring 2018-19 season.
Kessel picked up two assists in Saturday's 6-3, Game 5 loss to Washington. Kessel is on a playmaking roll right now -- he has four assists in his last three games and nine points, including eight helpers, in 11 games this postseason. But unfortunately, Kessel was also the guy who had the puck stripped from him late in the third with his own net empty. And that empty net snipe sealed the Pens' fate. Kessel was minus-4 Saturday in a poor defensive effort. He'd better tidy that up fast or the Pens' postseason could end sooner than he'd like.
Kessel picked up an assist in Thursday's Game 4 victory over Washington. Kessel now has power-play helpers in back-to-back games, but remains bogged down in a five-game goal drought. The fact that the winger has yet to find a way to beat Caps netminder Braden Holtby should be a concern for fans and fantasy owners alike. If the Madison, Wisconsin native can rediscover his scoring touch, Pittsburgh may be destined for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
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