‘Smart player’ Cullen has been a fit with Malkin and Kessel

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Chemistry can be a tough thing to predict. We’ve seen it time and time again in the NHL. A player that’s supposedly a good fit with another player just isn’t.

And then there are the cases of vice-versa.

For example, Matt Cullen. He’s 39 years old. The Pittsburgh Penguins signed him in August to a one-year, $800,000 deal. “He will play an important role on our fourth line,” said GM Jim Rutherford at the time.

And yet where is Cullen today? He’s playing left wing on the second line with two of the highest-paid players in the game, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

“Matt’s just a guy that’s a smart player,” coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s played with offensive guys in his career. I think because he’s responsible in all three zones, and the way he plays, and he still has the ability to think the game on their level. I think he can help that line. And so far it’s been pretty good.”

In Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Islanders, Cullen didn’t look out of place assisting on the game’s opening goal by Kessel.

That being said, he knows this could just be a temporary thing.

“You know there’s so many ups and downs to the season, things change a lot,” he said. “It’s fun to be here where I am, but the biggest thing is that we’re winning games.”

The Penguins  — 4-1-1 in their last six — host the Blackhawks tonight before tomorrow’s rematch in Chicago (on NBCSN).

Malkin, Kessel dominate as Pens stump Sharks

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Sometimes an angry Evgeni Malkin means a stray power play or two for his opponents, but it’s usually not the best idea to make him angry.

Giving a player that big and talented extra motivation just seems like a bad idea, right?

Joel Ward experienced that phenomenon on Tuesday, as Malkin responded to a blow from Ward with the goal you can see below.

Malkin scored a goal and two assists while Phil Kessel found the net twice in Pittsburgh’s 5-1 win against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Malkin now has a four-game goal streak going (five goals, three assists). He also has 13 points in his past seven games.

Marc-Andre Fleury deserves plenty of credit, too, as he stopped 33 out of 34 shots and continues to quietly generate some of the best work of his sometimes-polarizing career.

This was a nice way for the Penguins to begin a four-game Western road trip, although they’ll need to wait a while to try to keep it going; their next game comes in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Kessel has quiet night in Pens’ easy win over Leafs

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Phil Kessel made his long-awaited return to Toronto on Saturday, but his impact on the game was minimal.

The 28-year-old had no points and just one shot on goal in Pittsburgh’s 4-0 win over Toronto.

He was booed when he touched the puck for the first time.

Pittsburgh didn’t get much production from their top guns, as Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for zero points and two shots in the win.

They got goals from Chris Kunitz, Eric Fehr, Matt Cullen and Patric Hornqvist.

Despite keeping the Penguins’ stars off the scoreboard, the Leafs didn’t do many other positive things.

It was a smooth night for Marc-Andre Fleury, who faced just 21 shots in the contest.

The same can’t be said for Jonathan Bernier. The Leafs goaltender has been prone to giving up soft goals all season, and that continued on Saturday night.

The Leafs fell to 1-7-2 this season, while the Penguins improve to 7-4-0.

 

Kessel returns to Toronto for weird, but fun game

Phil Kessel
AP Photo
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Phil Kessel has already played in his first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs since being dealt, but now it will be the fans at the Air Canada Centre’s first chance to address him.

“I figure they’ll be some boos, obviously,” Kessel said with a grin on his face as he address reporters this afternoon. “That’s always how it is, right?”

It’s impossible to account for every fan, but it will be interesting to see what the general reception is. He was the face of the Maple Leafs during an era that brought more pain than success, but Kessel himself scored a superb 181 goals and 394 points in 446 games with Toronto.

In terms of offensive production, it would have been unreasonable to expect much more from him, although some will allow their feelings to be colored by the cost of getting him — three draft picks that became Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton.

At the same time, he occasionally found himself butting heads with the media and had former Toronto coach Ron Wilson questioned his reliability.

Even still, he made it clear that he considers Toronto home and doesn’t have any regrets.

As for tonight it will be “a weird game, but a fun game.”

Pittsburgh will look to keep rolling after winning six of its last seven. Meanwhile, Toronto is 1-6-2 and has been one of the worst teams offensively without Kessel’s services.

You can watch the full Kessel interview here:

Related: Report: Leafs plan … nothing for Kessel’s Toronto return

Report: Leafs plan … nothing for Kessel’s Toronto return

Phil Kessel
AP
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The best thing about teams generating tribute videos to returning former players isn’t the music. It’s not about the great highlights, either.

Really, the greatest thing is when those token gestures don’t happen.

Keep in mind this is by no means official, and the Toronto Maple Leafs could easily put together a simple bit if they want to.

Still, it’s awfully interesting from a high school drama standpoint that the Maple Leafs have nothing planned for Phil Kessel‘s return with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, according to Damien Cox’s report in Sportsnet’s latest “Headlines” segment.

A little frosty, right?

Obviously this is a minor detail, yet it’s interesting, especially as the Maple Leafs were the ones who traded Kessel out of town (rather than other rare instances in which a team might feel slighted by a free agent departure).

One would guess that Toronto’s fans will give him a boo-laced tribute, anyway, though.