Dunlap: Kessel’s Outbursts Are Tremendous

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Sure, there is the comedic impact. And, believe me, it is high comedy when Penguins forward Phil Kessel goes nuts on the bench.

He yells and screams.

His hands gyrate and twizzle at about 400 mph.

He gives the appearance of some sort of madman trying to get some sort of point across.

And, yeah, it couldn’t be funnier — at least in my opinion.

I could watch him do it 200,000 consecutive times on a loop and I would laugh 200,000 times. To me, it’s that hilarious.

But peel away the comedic value of mini-meltdowns such as Kessel had just before he scored the only goal Monday night as the Penguins beat Ottawa in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals to even the series and you have this: His actions – when they come in the right doses – are something very, very, very effective to the practical nature of making his hockey team better.

In my opinion, when a guy shows emotion like that (particularly a guy who has had his drive and work ethic questioned in the past) it can have a widespread impact on a team in a positive way. You will never convince me otherwise. What I’m getting at is I would bet all I have that some of his teammates saw Kessel’s mini-rampage last night and said to themselves, “Damn, Phil’s serious about this game, am I as into it as he is?”

And if they weren’t before that moment, they surely got locked in as much as Kessel afterward.

“Phil is an emotional guy, when he comes back to the bench, and he wants a pass, and he doesn’t get it, he lets guys know,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said as part of his postgame remarks. “I have no problem with that; I don’t think our team has any problem with that. I think that is how we make progress; that is how we come together as a team. I think it brings energy to our bench and for me that is a good thing. It tells me we have a bunch of guys that are invested and want to win.”

Bulls-eye, spot on Sully.

The only danger in such outbursts is if they become too commonplace from the same player (which Kessel’s are not) and then the rest of the team has a penchant to tune that player out. In short, you gotta pick your spots and Kessel did so masterfully.

The thing is, even if the Penguins hadn’t won and Kessel hadn’t gone on to score that goal, in that moment he did the right thing. It was his mechanism to try to motivate others – and it ended up having the desired impact. But, again, even if they Penguins hadn’t won, Kessel was doing what he thought could make others around him better in that moment when he plopped down on the bench and put on that sideshow.

For that, he’s a leader of this hockey club.

“Emotion is the fabric of our game,” Sullivan said. “I think that is part of what makes our game as great as it is. As a coaching staff we don’t want to discourage that, we want to encourage that as long as it is channeled the right way. Let’s make sure we keep it above the line and that it’s productive. But I think it gives our team personality and that is what makes our team productive.”

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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