CALGARY - As he approaches his 30th game into his tenure as a Maple Leaf, Phil Kessel has hit a reality check.
With a thumping emphasis on check.
As other teams load up to stop the former Bruin, Kessel is being forced to adjust to the added attention and to put it mildly, it’s been a work in progress.
“All great players have to learn to play when they are checked and Phil is learning that now,” assistant coach Tim Hunter said yesterday as the Leafs prepared for tomorrow’s meeting with the Flames. “Teams are scouting him and they have just shut him down.
“He’s got to learn how to play through that and we’re working with him.”
When Kessel scored a late goal against the Oilers on Wednesday night, it was his first point in seven games, the longest pointless drought since his rookie season.
With 14 goals and eight assists in 29 games, Kessel is nowhere near the pace he showed when he joined the Leafs lineup after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
Despite his late start, Kessel has 130 shots on net, second on the team to only Jason Blake. But with a different supporting cast than he had in Boston, opponents have been successful in shutting him down lately.
“I think Phil has hit a bit of a wall,” Hunter said. “He had no training camp and I don’t know if his base was as good as it could have been.
“Obviously it’s a little tougher in our environment but we don’t have the skill the Boston Bruins had. It just boils down to Phil learning his way in this environment and fighting through that. It’s going to be a long year for him.
“He also has to get his shifts a little shorter. We’d like to see him in the 45 to 50 second range. When you are on for a minute, that can gas you for the rest of the period.”