Phil Kessel Still Presents Challenge for Bruins Despite His Lack of Success Against Former Club


November 29, 2011

Phil Kessel Still Presents Challenge for Bruins Despite His Lack of Success Against Former ClubWILMINGTON, Mass. — The Bruins and Maple Leafs will meet for the third and fourth times this season in the next four days.

That means two more chances to try to shut down former Bruins forward Phil Kessel.

Not many teams have had much luck doing that this year, as Kessel leads in the NHL in scoring with 16-15-31 totals through 24 games. He's scored at least one point in all but five games this season, but two of the occasions he was blanked came against the Bruins.

Kessel has posted a 0-0-0 line and is a minus-2 in those two games against his former team, which the Bruins won 6-2 and 7-0. That continued his struggles against the Bruins since being dealt to Toronto just before the 2009-10 season. In 14 games against Boston, he has just 2-4-6 totals and is a minus-9.

But the Bruins are still wary of the budding young star, knowing full well how quickly the speedy winger can turn that trend around and strike for a costly goal.

"My experience is, I've killed a lot of penalties against him, and he's just dangerous," Bruins center Gregory Campbell said of Kessel. "Those types of skilled players make things happen quickly and they often make things happen out of nothing. It looks like he's got nothing and he'll get a shot off or make a play. And he's got deceiving speed as well, so we have to key on him."

There's plenty of baggage in the relationship between Kessel and the Bruins, but Campbell, who did not come to Boston until after Kessel had been dealt to Toronto, looks at the challenge of shutting Kessel down as no different than facing any of the league's other top stars.

"Our guys are used to that playing against top lines and they usually do a good job, but you have to give him respect," Campbell said. "He's a good player and he's having a great season."

Bruins coach Claude Julien didn't always see eye to eye with Kessel when the talented but temperamental winger was in Boston, but Julien recognizes the skills Kessel brings to the table. Julien utilized those abilities on a lethal top line with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic in 2008-09 when Kessel scored a career-high 36 goals, and Julien sees Kessel as even more dangerous now that he has another two-plus seasons of NHL experience under his belt.

"He's more experienced," Julien said. "There's no doubt he's more mature. But he's still the guy who has the quick release that he had here. He still skated well when he was here also. And I remember when he played the right wing on Savvy's line and Savvy used to feed him quite a bit and he had that 36-goal season. He's just gotten a little bit better because of maturity and stuff like that, but to me he's still the same player. He's just growing in his role."

And the task of keeping him quiet keeps growing as well.

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