What was Phil Kessel yelling about on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench?
PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the image to start spreading on Twitter: Phil Kessel on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench during the Eastern Conference final, yelling and pointing in frustration as Chris Kunitz laughed from the seat next to him.
A few other moments were captured by the television cameras, too. There was Kessel — who eventually scored the game-winning goal — stomping his foot and yelling at Evgeni Malkin. There was head coach Mike Sullivan draping himself over Malkin’s shoulders, saying something in his ear.
Kessel raving like a lunatic. Kunitz just laughing at him. Brill. #NHL #Penguins #BecauseItsTheCup pic.twitter.com/xvHnTOdpbF
— x – SpaceCam (@Spacecam) May 16, 2017
The videos and gifs from a fiery Penguins bench didn’t just dominate social media on Monday night, they were also a big part of the postgame conversation.
So, what was actually going on? Nothing out of the ordinary, according to Sullivan and his players. In fact, similar behavior is often encouraged.
“I’d much rather a bench that’s invested in trying to win, that has some emotion and personality to it than a group of guys that are flat-lined and we have to check them for a pulse,” Sullivan said. “We have a lot of personality on the bench.”
Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin verbally joust after a shift. Sullivan has to calm Geno down pic.twitter.com/KTuidhd9GO
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 16, 2017
Sullivan quickly confirmed — bringing laughter from the media — that Kessel is always like that. He doesn’t mind. It tells Sullivan he’s invested.
“I love that about the guy. … I think our players get a kick out of him, quite honestly,” Sullivan said. “He’s a vocal guy. He’s an emotional guy. He’s all-in. He wants to win.
“When he comes back to the bench, if he thinks he wants the puck or he was open, he lets a player know. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. To me, that’s all part of the team process. That’s how we improve as a group. I think it galvanizes our group.”
Phil Kessel is one angry man… #PlayoffEmotion pic.twitter.com/KuWID0bCKc
— Bar South N Celly (@BarSouthNCelly) May 16, 2017
“Phil’s always yelling,” Kunitz said with a chuckle. “He’s a competitive guy. He wants the puck at all times. That’s the thing for an offensive guy to understand. There’s certain areas of the ice that we can get the puck to and there’s certain areas where you have to almost give up on a play.”
When asked what exactly he said on the bench, Kessel responded, “I think I yelled more than once tonight. I don’t remember that time.”