Maple Leafs-Penguins Preview
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 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.
”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 (1-3-0), which picked up its first victory of the season with a 2-0 win over Ottawa on Thursday night. He has a goal and an assist through four games, 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.
Kessel’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.
”I’m going to go out there and play and try my best and hopefully things work out,” he said.
The rebuilding Maple Leafs are displaying signs of progress as well during their own adjustment phase, evidenced by Friday’s 6-3 win over slumping Columbus. Joffrey Lupul scored the tie-breaking goal early in the third period and Leo Komarov added two later on to seal Toronto’s first victory under Mike Babcock.
Toronto (1-2-1) has 10 goals in two games after recording one over its first two. Lupul has scored in two straight and Daniel Winnik, who spent 21 games with Pittsburgh last season, notched three assists on Friday.
”I thought we scored some good goals," Babcock said. "Full marks to the guys for the win. I think it’s a positive for them and they got points two nights in a row, which is a long way from where we started. We just need to keep getting better.”
That improved offense now meets a resurgent goaltender in Marc Andre-Fleury, who allowed eight goals in Pittsburgh’s three losses before stopping 22 shots against Ottawa.
After James Reimer worked Friday’s win, Jonathan Bernier makes his first start since being pulled 20 seconds into the second period when permitting three goals on 12 chances in Babcock’s Oct. 9 return to Detroit.
Bernier is 0-3-2 with a 3.55 goals-against average in five starts against Pittsburgh, which has won five straight in the series and six of seven at home from Toronto. Crosby (1 goal, 5 assists) and Evgeni Malkin (2 goals, 4 assists) each had six points during last season’s three meetings.