Phil Kessel can push his own buttons. Throughout Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, the camera caught Kessel broadcasting his internal monologue on the bench, shaking his head and castigating himself out loud.
Whatever sweet-nothings he was speaking into his ears, they paid off.
With 6:55 left in the third period, he gave the Penguins the only goal they would need to even up the series 1-1 as they head back to Ottawa for Game 3 Wednesday night.
After putting his team ahead, Kessel skated with an extra gear, a gear that had been absent during Game 1. Like any pure goal scorer, Kessel suffers through goalless droughts, and up to this point in the playoffs, his 5 on 5 production had not met the levels that the Penguins needed.
His critical score in third demonstrated that the Penguins can win ugly hockey games as well. They shut out the Senators and got a timely goal from one of their stars.
Much has been made of Kessel’s expressive body language on the bench, but this isn’t something new with him. For all the talk coming out of Toronto that he was an aloof and overpaid star, Kessel has demonstrated throughout his short tenure with the Penguins that he’s invested.
At one point, as Kessel shook his head and was yelling down the bench, his linemate Chris Kunitz began laughing. Why? Because they know who Phil is; he’s a competitor and not one who stuff his frustrations in his back pocket. He’s a vocal guy, and when his teammates see him emotionally involved in the game, well, that’s being anything but self-absorbed.
Fans and media alike are often concerned with Kessel’s compete level. There are shifts where he skates at a leisurely pace and gets smothered along the boards. But when he’s switched on, Kessel skates with authority and effortlessly wrists the puck on the move.
As last night illustrated, Kessel’s problem isn’t that “he doesn’t want it enough.”
He wants it just as much as team firebrands Patric Hornqvist. Vessel’s animated gestures have been on display all season, but coming at a poignant time and followed by a clutch goal, Kessel’s personality got the full treatment. And what did it show?
This guy comes to play.
Sure, he’ll look disinterested on the ice at times, and the fan base demands that, because he’s a professional, he never experience any emotional letdowns or drop-off in quality of play. Let me ask the fan base this: are you a 100% all day every day at your office job?
Because Phil Kessel’s 100% was a sight to see last night, and there aren’t many other pure goal scorers that rise to the occasion as he does.
Just ask Alex Oveckin, whose fanbase is ready to toss him into the scrap heap. Ovechkin is one of the most emotionally invested hockey players in the game today, yet his fanbase still places every playoff ill at his feet.
The surprise that Phil Kessel has vociferous intensity is long past its expiration date, and last night, he might have gotten a public exoneration.
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.