Kessel heating up as Pens host Sens

PITTSBURGH — It's been about a month since Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had a talk with winger Phil Kessel. Sullivan wanted to see Kessel's wicked shot more to, he hoped, increase his scoring.

The Ottawa Senators, who visit PPG Paints Arena on Monday night, will have a chance to see the results, although they might not be thrilled about that.

Over the past six games, Kessel has scored four goals to double his total from the first six weeks of the season. He has been contributing all season — he has 16 assists and ranks third on the team with 24 points — but seems to be getting back to the sniper's role that has defined his career.

Sullivan noted that when Kessel is “on the puck, he's a threat. He's got such a great shot, whether it's off the rush, underneath the hash marks. … We have to be a team that can generate offense different ways.”

Kessel has 29 shots over the past eight games. Saturday, he scored twice in a 5-3 win over Detroit, his first multi-goal game of the season.

Those two goals came off of slick passes by Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, and Kessel was quick to deflect most of the credit to those two, and in “hockeyese.”

“Geno sauced me a good one on the first one, and Haggy made a great backdoor for a tap-in,” Kessel said.

Translation: Malkin found him with a cross-ice saucer pass for a one-timer, and Hagelin's pass cut across the grain.

The Penguins (15-7-3) have won two games in a row for the first time in almost a month, since Nov. 6 and 8, but they remain neck and neck and neck with the Rangers and Washington as the three jostle for the Metropolitan Division lead.

The Senators (15-8-2), meanwhile, beat Florida 2-0 Saturday to break a two-game losing streak. The win brought them within two points of Montreal atop the Atlantic Division — although the Canadiens then picked up another two points Sunday in a shootout win against Los Angeles.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher sensed some fatigue after the two straight losses, so he called off Friday's practice, and Saturday's morning skate was a lightly-attended optional.

“We needed to give the guys a rest,” Boucher said. “We were definitely hoping to have more energy, and that's exactly what happened. You saw that right off the bat. Our guys were skating hard. They were ready.”

Now the Senators will need to be ready to start a four-game, nine-day road trip that heads to the West Coast following the game against the Penguins.

With goaltender Craig Anderson on leave from Ottawa to be with his wife as she battles cancer, Pittsburgh could see a familiar face in goal for Ottawa on Monday.

Mike Condon began the season with the Penguins while Matt Murray recovered from a broken thumb. He played just one period. When Murray returned, Pittsburgh traded Condon to the Senators.

Condon is 3-1-1 with Ottawa, including two shutouts — the second one a 24-save job Saturday against Florida. It's quite a run.

“I don't really look too far in the past or too far in the future,” Condon said. “I'm just trying to keep the game simple and just stay in the moment.”