|Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur looks to continue his domination over the Leafs' ice-cold sniper Phil Kessel Friday. (Reuters photo)
NEWARK, N.J. -- Before Phil Kessel faces down Martin Brodeur in the U.S.-Canada game at the Olympics, he'll be getting three cracks in eight days at him in NHL action starting here Friday night.
But Kessel, mired in his first long pro slump, doesn't need it complicated by getting psyched out against a Hall of Fame goalie. Kessel is 0-for-11 in the goal department in games against the New Jersey Devils, for whom Brodeur plays almost every minute.
“Hopefully, I get one tonight,” the Maple Leafs' Kessel said after the morning skate at the Prudential Center.
Kessel, who has just two goals in his past 20 games this season, revealed he has tried the motivational trick of watching some of his vintage games from his days in Boston.
“I watched my old goals, but they’re not going in now and what are you going to do? You have to get better. (The Devils) are a very tough team to play and we’ll just have to play a good, simple game.”
Kessel, an American, said he was not looking past the next two weeks of NHL action to the Olympic tournament in Vancouver.
“It will be an unbelievable experience to play for my country, but your mind doesn’t wander. Right now you’re playing for Toronto, this is what you’re paid to do. We have to get back on track and win some games.”
There will be lots of U.S.-Canada implications in the three coming games, with Toronto coach Ron Wilson also running Team USA and Devils’ Jacques Lemaire an assistant for Mike Babcock on the Canadian team. The two also rank seventh and eighth in NHL wins, with Lemaire up 574-569 at present.
The Devils’ Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise and the injured Paul Martin are American Olympians, as are the Leafs’ Kessel and the injured Mike Komisarek. Parise laughed when asked to tell all about beating Brodeur for the benefit of Canadian media.
“I could tell you all the secrets and he would still end up making the save,” Parise said. “Guys have been shooting on him for years and he’s still tough to figure out.”
Komisarek did not accompany the team here and is thus doubtful for Saturday’s home game against Vancouver with a shoulder injury that has sidelined him all month.
Toronto fared well against the Devils last year (3-0-1), but Wilson said there could be no letup given Jersey is almost 30 points ahead of them in the standings.
“We’ve had success, but you have to be very disciplined against them,” Wilson said. “I won’t get into the X’s and O’s of beating their trap, but you have to have the discipline. You have to focus every shift on where you’re putting the puck. If you’re sloppy with the puck, they will exploit things. If you do get chances, they probably have the best goalie of all time guarding the net. If I thought he had weaknesses, I wouldn’t tell (the media).”
Jonas Gustavsson starts for the Leafs after Wilson indicated the weekend set would be split with Vesa Toskala, who hasn’t played and won since Jan. 14.