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Northeast: Kessel shows plenty in Leafs debut

Wednesday, 11.04.2009 / 10:09 AM / Division Notebooks

By James Murphy - NHL.com Correspondent

The result was one all too familiar to the Toronto Maple Leafs -- a loss. In this case a 2-1 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. But Phil Kessel's long-awaited debut with the Leafs was cause for optimism.

Kessel, acquired in a trade with the Bruins this summer, looked like the real deal in his debut after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Kessel is someone who can give the Leafs some much-needed offense. He finished the night with 10 shots on goal, had seven others blocked and missed the net on two more.

"I had a ton of chances, let me tell you," Kessel said.

Kessel, 22, is the centerpiece of GM Brian Burke's rebuilding plan. He came to Toronto at the cost of two first-rounds picks and a second-rounder. Against the Lightning, Kessel showed all the speed and offensive skills that attracted Burke. Kessel also showed he can bounce back from a big hit, having absorbed a big check from Tampa's Mattias Ohlund at the Tampa Bay blue line late in the first period.

"I don't remember (ever) getting hit like that," Kessel said of the thunderous hit by Ohlund. "I put myself in a bad situation to tell you the truth, I shouldn't have done that. Clean hit, he got me good."

"When he came back (to the bench), he said that's the hardest he's ever been hit in this League," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "You could kind of see it coming; he was dancing through a minefield. ... You've got to give him a double thumbs up for taking a hit like that, a massive hit and coming back and still being a dominant player every shift."

In all, Kessel played 23:50 and knows his new team is counting on him to score.

"I've got to find some way to get some of those to go in. First game, got to get better. My job on this team is to score goals and I've got to start doing that."

Power outage in Boston -- The Bruins can't seem to score lately, both even strength and on the power play. They have just three goals in their last four games and have not scored with the man-advantage in their last five games. After a 2-0 loss in Detroit, the Bruins were 0-for-17 during a five-game span, 1-for-23 over the last seven games and just 6-for-57 (11.3 percent) this season. Coach Claude Julien has tried numerous line pairings and power-play units, and prior to the game against the Red Wings, Julien once again was switching things up.

Julien decided to reunite forward Marco Sturm with long-time linemate Patrice Bergeron, and put veteran forward Mark Recchi on the right side of this new top line.

"(Sturm) has always been better with (Bergeron)," Julien told the Boston Globe.

For Sturm, who missed the majority of last season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in January, the reunion with Bergeron is a welcome one.

"Obviously we have to score more goals," Sturm said. "'Bergy' and me have played together for a long time. So we're mixing things up and see if we can score more goals."

As for the power play, captain Zdeno Chara believes the Bruins need to slow things down and stop forcing plays that aren't there.

"When we do have chances, we have to stay calm," Chara said after Boston's 1-0 loss to the Rangers Sunday. "We have to take that extra half-second instead of firing everything right away. I think our attitude around the net has improved. We are hungrier around the net. But sometimes we are so crowded down there it's like we are battling each other."

Heading into the game at Detroit the Bruins were consistent, but not in the fashion they would like to be. They were yet to win or lose two games straight, following a lose-one, win-one streak that had them at 6-6-1.

"Obviously we'd like to get things going and win a few in a row, but for some reason we can't seem to maintain momentum from game-to-game," defenseman Derek Morris said.

Roy struggling to score --
Sabres forward Derek Roy is struggling to find the net and the reason may be that he tries too hard to help linemate Thomas Vanek find the net.

Roy, who scored 28 goals in 2008-09 and 32 in 2007-08, has yet to score a goal through 11 games this season, but has 8 assists. Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer, has 4 goals through nine games, but the Sabres are hoping his set-up man starts scoring as well.

Roy admitted he needed to do more than help Vanek score.

"My job out there is to make plays and pass it to Thomas as much as I can," Roy told the Buffalo News. "But at the same time, I'm usually scoring goals. I've got to find that line of when to shoot and when to pass."

During his 28-goal campaign a season ago, Roy averaged 2.7 shots per game, but this season he's shooting 2.36 times per game and that has led to his 11-game drought. The main reason for shooting less is obvious.

"It's hard not to pass because he's always in position. He's all ready to one-time it or get in position to score a goal, and that's why he's so good at what he does."
-- Derek Roy on playing with teammate Thomas Vanek

"Thomas is a 40-goal scorer," he said. "It's hard not to pass because he's always in position. He's all ready to one-time it or get in position to score a goal, and that's why he's so good at what he does."

But just as Roy knows he needs to take more chances, so does coach Lindy Ruff, who seems a bit frustrated with the suddenly pass-first Roy.

"I don't like the fact he hasn't scored," Ruff said. "He doesn't like it, either. He's had some great opportunities that he hasn't put away. I think he's passed up some opportunities.

"The opportunities he's had inside the game, he's got to finish."

Goaltender Ryan Miller has lost only once in regulation, with his first loss coming this past Saturday in a 5-0 loss to the Islanders. It happens rarely, but Miller was pulled from the game in the second period after allowing three goals. The top candidate for the Team USA Olympic starting goaltender job is 8-1-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. His top competitors to start for Team USA in Vancouver are Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (4-5-0, 2.66 GAA, .910 save percentage), Craig Anderson (10-3-2, 2.11 GAA, .932 save percentage) of the Avalanche and the Kings' Jonathan Quick (9-3-2, 2.61 GAA, .901 save percentage).

Fourth line for Kostitsyn -- Forward Andrei Kostitsyn has followed his brother Sergei into the Montreal Canadiens dog house and was dropped to the fourth line by coach Jacques Martin. Kostitsyn is off to a tough start, with only 1 goal and 4 points in 14 games. Kostitsyn, who is a minus-4, didn’t seem too happy about his reduced playing time.

"I'm playing on the last line," Kostitsyn told the media Monday. "I'm playing seven minutes a game and I don't have a chance to score goals and make good plays. Last year, I played 16, 17 minutes a game. I played every shift in a game. Now, it's a couple of shifts in a game, and if there's a penalty I'm sitting on the bench for five or six minutes."

Earlier in the season, Sergei Kostitsyn was assigned to AHL Hamilton after what Martin felt was a lack of work ethic. Martin apparently is seeing similar signs from Andrei, and if the Russian forward, who is two seasons removed from a breakout 2007-08 when he had 26 goals and 53 points, wants more playing time, he will need to earn it back.

"I'd like to see him play with more intensity," Martin said. "I'd like to see him make better hockey decisions."

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak must be slapping his shoes together every time he plays a road game these days. Halak has yet to lose at the Bell Centre, but yet to win on the road this season. He is 5-2-0, with all five wins coming in Montreal.

Elliot gaining momentum --
Last season Ottawa Senators goaltender Brian Elliot was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise difficult season for Ottawa.

In 31 games, Elliot went 16-8-3 and proved he could hang at the NHL level. This season, with designated starter Pascal Leclaire back from injury, Elliot has been relegated to backup duties, but he isn't complaining, and instead seems to be improving with every start.

"I think the structure of his game and his positional play is a lot better," Senators coach Cory Clouston told Allen Panzeri of the Ottawa Citizen.

Clouston believes the more Elliot makes that structure part of his game, the closer he will get to becoming a starter, or at least being ready for that position.

"What he needs now, and it's almost like a golfer -- it's a matter of making it 100-percent habitual, where he doesn't even have to think about it," Clouston said. "It's like a golfer changing a couple parts of his game. He has changed a couple parts of his game and they're not quite ingrained yet. Even though Brian has had some success, he has had to change some parts of his game. Once that is ingrained in his game, then I truly believe he'll be a starter."

Elliot, who is 2-1-1 with a 3.20 GAA and .892 save percentage, said he is feeling more comfortable.

"Every time I go into the net I feel a lot more comfortable," he said. "In practice I feel like I'm doing the right things, and I feel a lot more consistent every day as a goaltender. I don't have the up-and-down days that I might have had a couple of years ago, in practice and in games, as well. I just want to keep that consistent pattern and keep progressing every day."

The Senators got some good news on the injury front Monday when they learned center Jason Spezza could return from a groin injury and defenseman Anton Volchenkov's injury to his right elbow is not as bad as once believed. Volchenkov had an MRI and is now expected to miss 10-14 days.

Black and Blue

Boston -- Center Marc Savard is expected to have the protective boot removed from his broken left foot later this week, but remains at least four weeks away from returning to the lineup. Forward Milan Lucic is skating on his own, but is expected to be sidelined another four weeks with a broken right index finger. Forward Byron Bitz is day-to-day with a groin injury.

Buffalo --
Defenseman Toni Lydman is questionable for Wednesday night's game with the Islanders. Forwards Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta are suffering from the flu, but are expected to play Wednesday.

Montreal --
Defenseman Hal Gill (foot) and forwards Georges Laraque (back) and Matt D’Agostini (concussion) are day-to-day. Defenseman Andrei Markov remains on injured reserve and is expected to miss three more months with a torn ankle tendon. Defenseman Ryan O'Byrne remains out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Toronto --
Defenseman Mike Van Ryn is out for the season after reconstructive knee surgery last month.
Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff