February 14, 2011
Kessel hopes Bozak, Lupul are the answer
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
While Tyler Bozak tweeted that he “can’t seem to find a Valentine,” his Maple Leafs teammate, Phil Kessel, got a new linemate on the special day.
We’ll have to wait and see how much Joffrey Lupul loves playing with Kessel on Tuesday night in Boston.
Kessel’s goal-less streak is reaching personal-record proportions, and with the slump in mind, Leafs coach Ron Wilson put Wilson back on a line with Bozak at practice on Monday.
The new wrinkle is Lupul, who lined up on the left wing and acknowledged it is a position he rarely has played in his 6 1/2 years in the National Hockey League.
However, that was not a concern for Lupul, who did not record a point in his first two games with the Leafs after he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks last week.
Rather than take a “What did I do to deserve this?” attitude, Lupul is prepared to do what he must to help the team’s most expensive forward score goals.
“I know he is in a bit of a funk, probably the longest one he has ever been in,” Lupul said. “But it’s exciting to play with him, because you just know he is going to break out and when he does it is probably going to be in a big way.
“I’m just going to try to get in on the forecheck and get him the puck.”
Of course, the hockey gods would have it no other way than the possibility that Kessel can equal his longest skid in the NHL if he goes without a goal against the Bruins, the team that happily gave him to the Leafs in order to obtain a couple of first-round draft picks.
Kessel, nestled nicely atop a 14-game goose egg, has not had a 15-game dry spell since he was a rookie with the Bruins in 2006-07.
Never a loquacious type (save his little outburst last week) Kessel was not offering them up on a tee after the Leafs worked out at the MasterCard Centre.
“Just another game,” Kessel said. “We need the points right now and it will be a tough battle. Teams always change lines up, so you have to find chemistry with everyone and I think we will be fine.
“Right now, it is a tough stretch, to say the least. I have to be better and find a way to put them in the net.”
Wilson, as is his manner, did not mince words. It’s clear the coach is at wit’s end, if he is not past it already, trying to come up with a solution for his $6-million US player.
Wilson again has Mikhail Grabovski centring Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin, a trio that on most nights has been the Leafs’ most dangerous. But the coach does not want to keep breaking up lines as he attempts to get Kessel on track.
“Phil is the one who has to work his way out of this,” Wilson said. “There is only so much you can do to help him in terms of playing with different people. He has to go earn his chances and dig in and help in other ways until the puck goes in the net.”
The Bruins have allowed 16 goals in their past three games, but the Leafs don’t expect to start scoring by the bushel in Beantown. They’ve scored one goal in their past two games.
“No matter what we do with the lines, we have to create offence somehow,” MacArthur said.
“The top six have to score every night. That’s the pressure with the position, and you have to be able to deal with it. Boston, it’s going to be tight-checking.
“If we play a perimeter game, it is going to be a long night. We’re going to have to go inside and take some abuse.”