Kulemin's stock rising with Leafs coach

LANCE HORNBY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET

As the Maple Leafs slip and Phil Kessel falls, Nikolai Kulemin's stock is on the rise.

Coach Ron Wilson continues to use him more and more with Kessel and centre Matt Stajan, in place of left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky. On the first Leafs goal last night, it was Stajan and Kulemin working the puck to Ian White. Kessel, meanwhile, is in a season-worst five-game points slump.

"Kulemin is a better skater than Pony and I want someone who will go in there for loose pucks," Wilson said in a terse news conference, following last night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Wilson underlined his displeasure with the Kessel line by letting Mikhail Grabovski's line take last night's opening faceoff. Toronto now has lost three in a row for the first time since mid-November.

Kulemin had been unable to duplicate his modest rookie success, until he embraced the defensive aspects of the NHL the Leafs coaches were trying to preach.

Getting Kessel kick-started is the next project for Wilson. Kessel is averaging four shots a game through his skid and nearly won it last night late in regulation after the Leafs came back from a 2-0 disadvantage. But close doesn't count.

"We have to bury a couple of more," Kessel said.


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