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Stanley Cup notebook: Pens looking for more from Kessel

PITTSBURGH -- Getting Phil Kessel going again offensively was one of the Penguins' key points of emphasis heading into Game Two of the Stanley Cup final.

Kessel joined Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino last year on the "HBK" Line that was a key third unit on the Penguins' run to a Cup. The line no longer exists and Hagelin, in fact, sat out Wednesday night as a healthy scratch for the second straight game in part because he has one goal in 11 playoff games this year.

Kessel entered Wednesday's game third on the Penguins in playoff scoring this year with 19 points and has seven goals. But he has completely cooled off of late, with just one goal in the last six games. He had no shots on goal and played just 15 minutes, 35 seconds in Game One -- including only one shift of 50 seconds in the final 7 1/2 minutes of the Penguins' 5-3 victory.

Kessel, who has just two even-strength goals in the playoffs this year, was moved off Evgeni Malkin's line in Game One but opened Game Two back on the wing with Malkin and Chris Kunitz. Patric Hornqvist took some shifts in that spot in the opener.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan would prefer to keep Kessel and Malkin together if he can, but not if Kessel is giving him so little. And there's also the concern that Kessel's slump might also bring down Malkin's play as well.

Malkin did connect in Game One, scoring the power play goal that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead after a goal by Nashville's P.K. Subban was wiped out on an offside chllenge.

"When they're effective is when they're just playing the game the right way, winning puck battles, playing good on the wall, going hard on pucks and being difficult to play against," Sullivan said of Malkin and Kessel following his team's optional morning skate. "It's a discussion we have a lot with them. Just try to be harder and stiffer to play against on puck battles.

"They're obviously very good when they have the puck. Our challenge with Phil and Geno is just the subtleties and the details with their play without the puck."

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After the Penguins had just 12 shots on goal in Game One -- including none for a 37-minute stretch over Games One and Two -- Sullivan shuffled his lines at the start of Game Two.

In addition to putting Kessel back with Malkin, Sullivan put Bryan Rust on Sidney Crosby's line with Conor Sheary. Scott Wilson was dropped to the fourth line with Hornqvist and Matt Cullen.

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Pittsburgh entered Wednesday's contest 3-0 in Game Two this postseason, with the coaching staff using the lessons they learned in openers to outscore opponents, 13-5, in the second matchup.

Said Sullivan: "It provides affirmation that your pre-scout was on and what you saw in the prior series was something you would see more of, or if teams are taking a different game plan against your team."

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The national anthem singer will remain a secret, but the NHL announced that Grammy Award singer/songwriter and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Alan Jackson will play a free concert outside Bridgestone Arena Saturday, roughly two hours before Game Three.

Upwards of 20,000 people are expected to watch the game outside on large screens, as they have through the playoffs. A three-block area of Broadway in Music City is being closed for the event. Country music stars have done anthem duties this postseason and their identity has largely been concealed until just before they step on the ice.

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The crowd of 18,635 marked the Penguins' 80th straight postseason sellout. They have sold out their last 403 regular-season home games.

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