Coach wants Kessel to be less predictable

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:05 PM ET

TORONTO - Ron Wilson can’t help but feel like he’s watching a loop.

What’s troubling is, the Maple Leafs coach gets that notion whenever his star forward, Phil Kessel, jumps over the boards.

“I believe it is predictable,” Wilson said of Kessel’s game as a whole. “We talk about that with him a lot. When the other team knows what you are going to do, you should change it up a little bit, you know?”

Yes, coach, Leafs Nation knows.

If Kessel doesn’t score against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre, he will have gone eight consecutive games without a goal, a skid that would be the 23-year-old’s longest of the season.

Since opening the year with seven goals in the Leafs’ first eight games, Kessel has three goals in his past 20. Of those, the Leafs have won only five.

With 10 goals in 28 games, Kessel is on pace for 29. Certainly, more was expected after he found the net 30 times in 70 games for Toronto in 2009-10.

The equation is fairly simple for Kessel. He was acquired from the Boston Bruins nearly 15 months ago, at the cost of a couple of first-round draft picks and a second-rounder, to score.

After practice at the MasterCard Centre on Friday, Kessel said he doesn’t care about scoring goals if the Leafs are winning.

But when you’re the centrepiece of the offence and making $6 million US this season, the Leafs won’t win many games unless you’re doing what you are being paid to do. Kessel has six assists and is minus-10. Playmaking and being defensively sound aren’t big parts of the package.

“I’m getting my chances and one of these days they have to go in,” said Kessel, who skated on a line at practice with centre Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong.

“I have some chances where normally I would score. Right now I am just not getting them to go in.”

Part of the problem is the Leafs don’t have a No. 1 centre, a guy who can help Kessel excel. So Kessel has to rely on himself on many nights, and when that happens, it gets a lot easier for opposing teams to shut him down. Or, at the least, ensure that the shots Kessel gets aren’t high-quality scoring chances. Before Friday’s games in the National Hockey League, Kessel was 10th with 111 shots on goal.

“He has to change his game plan out there a little bit and not be trying to do the same thing all the time,” Wilson said. “Come in from different angles, give-and-go a little bit more and things like that instead of banging your head against the concrete wall and show that you can do it in a certain way.”

Wilson wasn’t demanding drastic changes. Kessel’s potential is there. It’s about finding new ways to exploit it.

“There are little things he can do a little bit differently that might put him in a different position, a different shooting angle coming in,” Wilson said. “(Enter the zone) a little big later rather than leading the attack where the other team can isolate him and things like that. That’s what we are talking about with him and showing him on the video.”

Kessel, who had 36 goals with the Bruins two years ago, might need a dose of dumb luck to snap his skid against the Canadiens. It’s expected the Habs, who played in Detroit against the Red Wings on Friday night, will start Carey Price in goal.

Price has one of the six shutouts against the Leafs this season.

“I’m going to go out there and keep shooting,” Kessel said. “We have to go to the dirty areas.”


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