PITTSBURGH (AP) Phil Kessel totally gets the narrative. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward just wants no part of it.
So forgive him if he’s not getting worked up over facing the Toronto on Saturday night for the first time since the Maple Leafs shipped the three-time All-Star to Pittsburgh in July.
Despite six sometimes turbulent seasons, Kessel insists he enjoyed his time in Toronto. He’s just too focused on trying to fit in alongside Sidney Crosby to get too worked up over seeing the guys in blue on the other bench or the media horde sure to parse his every move just as it did during his time playing for a club that made just one playoff appearance with Kessel’s familiar No. 81 in the lineup.
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”I don’t care. Whatever,” Kessel said. ”I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win (Saturday) night and try to play my best and whatever happens, happens.”
Kessel is finding his way in Pittsburgh, which picked up its first victory of the season with a 2-0 win over Ottawa on Thursday night. Kessel had a goal and an assist, the only points produced by the top line of Kessel, Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
It’s not quite the start the Penguins envisioned when they acquired a dynamic player who has scored 32 times or more in each of the last five seasons. Yet there are signs things are starting to gel. Pittsburgh’s first line played with energy against the Senators and produced several scoring chances even though none of them reached the back of the net.
There are some advantages to having such in-depth knowledge of the Maple Leafs, but other than that there appears to be no vendetta. He’s happy in Pittsburgh. Toronto is rebuilding (again). That’s about it.
”I’m going to go out there and play and try my best and hopefully things work out,” he said.
The 28-year-old’s main concern is helping kickstart an 0-for-12 power play and figuring out how to play with the creative and relentless Crosby. There were some early successes in the preseason, but it just hasn’t quite translated once the games started to count.
Yet he’s hardly panicking and seems to be at ease now that he’s no longer the focal point of the offense or the franchise. His locker is two stalls down from Crosby, and Kessel’s new teammates praised him for not trying to earn his $8.9 million salary in one night.
”He doesn’t feel too much pressure out there,” Kunitz said. ”He just wants to go and do what he can that next shift. I think that’s important for a lot of guys.”
NOTES: The Penguins placed forward Beau Bennett on injured reserve Friday with an undisclosed injury. … The Penguins recalled defenseman Tim Erixon from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.