Penguins ponder risk-reward of Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel pairing
Sometimes, the pairing of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel leaves coach Mike Sullivan shaking his head in awe.
Two of the world’s most talented goal scorers, Malkin and Kessel are capable of creating a jaw-dropping play out of thin air.
Other times, like when their zeal to score goals leads to problems at the defensive end, they leave Sullivan shaking his head in disapproval.
That’s the risk-reward scenario Sullivan weighed as he put Malkin and Kessel on a line with Carl Hagelin that made its preseason debut in a 3-2 exhibition loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena.
That’s the risk-reward scenario he’ll probably ponder all season long.
“There are times when they can be very dynamic and very effective when they play together,” Sullivan said. “There are other times where it’s a struggle.”
Some stats to illustrate Sullivan’s point: Two years ago, when Kessel and Malkin were on the ice at the same time five-on-five, the Penguins outscored their opponents 29-10. Last year, the Penguins were outscored 30-26 with the duo on the ice together.
There’s a balance Sullivan hopes Malkin and Kessel can strike moving forward.
First, he wants them to be defensively responsible.
“When maybe they don’t have their legs on a given night or they go through a stretch where it’s a little bit of a struggle, the question I always ask them is, ‘How are you going to help us win?’ ” Sullivan said. “It can’t just be about the offense. You’ve got to be a line that’s sound at both ends of the rink.”
At the same time, he recognizes that it would be ridiculous to try to take two of the game’s most amazing scorers and turn them into checkers.
“We certainly encourage them to do what they do and act on their instincts,” Sullivan said. “That’s what makes some of our players special, and those two guys are two of those players, but certainly there’s a time and place for making a simple play and staying on the right side of a scrum and making sure there’s some conscience defensively so we don’t trade chance for chance or goal for goal.
“As long as they have that in perspective, I know that can be a combination that can be very dynamic for us.”
The two goalies battling for the backup spot behind Matt Murray each played half of Sunday’s game.
Casey DeSmith started and stopped 10 of 13 shots, giving up three goals in a six-minute stretch of the second period. Tristan Jarry came on in relief and turned back all 20 shots he saw.
Sullivan didn’t seem to hold the goals against DeSmith.
“We gave up some high-quality chances at times through the course of the game,” Sullivan said. “I thought it was a sloppy game from our standpoint. Because of that, the quality of chances were pretty high. I thought both guys were pretty good.”
During the sloppy stretch of the second period, new Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson found himself chasing runaway Red Wings on a pair of goals against.
“The good news is those are preseason things,” Johnson said. “As each game goes along here, we’re going to get a lot better and sharpen up.”
Sullivan said center Riley Sheahan, who has yet to participate in a full team practice in training camp due to a lower-body injury, skated Sunday morning and has been cleared for contact.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or
via Twitter @BombulieTrib.