Penguins coach defends Phil Kessel, Emotional Bench Guy

Game 2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ series against the Ottawa Senators was the Phil Kessel Show.

Not just because he scored the only goal of a 1-0 win for the Penguins over the Senators, evening their series at 1-1 ahead of Wednesday’s game in Ottawa. No, there was also the Phil Kessel Show at the Penguins’ bench, in which the forward ranted and raged and slammed his stick and smacked his gloves and looked about as content as a driver in their eighth hour in the Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room.

He looked like a hedgehog vibrating on a massage chair.

“You know, obviously, it’s a tight game, and ah, there’s a lot of emotion, It’s the third round. We want to win,” Kessel said.

Still, Kessel acting with the serenity of Paul Giamatti on a caffeine bender dropping a hammer on his foot was worthy of attention, and coach Mike Sullivan was asked about it on Tuesday.

“I think you guys take things out of context. You guys have no idea what conversations go on [at] the bench,” he said.

(Actually, we would if NBC’s between the benches commentator could reveal what’s actually being said instead of speaking in opaque terms, but we digress…)

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“So guys … it’s an emotional game out there. Guys are heated. They’re heated for all the right reasons, because they’re invested, they want to win,” said Sullivan.

D”o we have some exchanges on the bench? Sure we do, and we encourage it because I think it helps our game. So just because a guy gets a little bit emotional in the bench, for me, I think it helps our overall team game. I think progress is made. So we call it a man’s argument. That’s the way it is. I think lines go back and forth and talk to one another. I think it brings juice to the bench.”

Phil brought the juice. Like, an orchard’s worth of it. Like when he appeared to be playing rock, paper, scissors with a ghost and Chris Kunitz burst into laughter.

(It appears Kessel shot ‘dynamite.’)

“Phil’s an emotional guy. When he comes back to the bench, he wants a pass and he doesn’t get it, he lets a guy know. I have no problem with that. I don’t think our team has any problem with that. I think that’s how we make progress. That’s how we come together as a team,” said Sullivan. “I think it brings energy to our bench, and for me, that’s a good thing. So it tells me that we’ve got a bunch of guys that are invested and they want to win.”

Still, sometimes the emotions can get a little heated. Sometimes there’s too much juice. So, in those cases, Sullivan and assistant coach Rick Tocchet have to keep the peace.

“Sometimes a conversation can get a little heated, and trust me when I tell you this, our coaching staff is very well aware. We monitor everything that goes on [at] the bench,” said Sullivan. “Tocchet and I are pretty tuned in to the conversations that take place in front of us, and we believe they’re productive. If we think they’re not or they become a distraction, that’s usually when one of us steps in, and these guys are respectful. They get it. They understand it. And they’re a mature group.”

Hey, it’s like a big family on that bench. And every family has the crazy uncle who goes berserk at Thanksgiving because it’s creamed corn instead of traditional kernels, and he’s usually justified in his anger. Such is Phil Kessel.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.