Bruins

Kessel on fire as he returns to Boston

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Kessel on fire as he returns to Boston

BOSTON -- Phil Kessel is returning to Boston yet again with the Toronto Maple Leafs to square off with the Bruins, but for the first time since leaving Boston, Phil the Thrill is going to be feared when he hits the Garden ice.

Kessel leads the NHL with seven goals, 12 points and a plus-7 in five games for the Maple Leafs coming on the heels of a three-point performance in a 4-3 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night. Hes been the beneficiary of a wide open system employed by the Leafs this season, but it appears that Kessel has also taken the step to the next level this season.

You know that Kessel has turned a corner when those around the Leafs organization including the media are thumping their chest about the trade with the Bruins thats netted Boston Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight and a brilliantly bright future.

Only one Maple Leafs player in the NHL's modern era (since 1943-44) scored at least seven goals in the team's first five games of a season: Hall of Famer Sweeney Schriner scored eight goals in Toronto's first five games in 1944-45. So Kessel is making history with Toronto, and hes also within the last couple of games started having success against his former hockey club in Boston.The sprinting start to the season is part of the Kessel modus operandi for his NHL season, and the gifted scorer had seven points (5 goals and 2 assists) through his first seven games with the Leafs last season. Clearly this year's scoring outburst is a step up from there, but many around hockey -- including Claude Julien -- are curious to see if the ending is equally spectacular this time around.Because the endings for Kessel haven't been quite as jaw-dropping as the beginnings."He's off to a good start again. That's a trademark for Phil is that he gets off to a good start. I watched him play last night and he's playing extremely well," said Julien. "His line has been doing a lot of damage out there on the ice. We need to understand the danger of that and be very aware when they're on the ice."

It sets up an interesting match-up against 19-year-old second year forward Tyler Seguin, who is also emerging this season with five points (1 goal, 4 assists) in 6 games as a viable offensive threat. But a Bs team averaging an NHL-worst 1.69 goals per game this season will need to generate a lot more offense to offset the former phenom forward thats on pace for a ridiculous 115 goals and 197 points this season.

That wont last and it will be interesting to see how much staying power Toronto has after getting off to a decent start last season as well. But nothing about Thursday nights game will get the introverted Kessel nervous about another return to Boston thats become a normal part of the season routine.

It gets old when you guys ask all the time, said Kessel when asked about heading back to Boston. You know, its a couple of years ago. I dont get jitters anymore. Going back to that first year I was a little nervous.

Theyre a great team and were going to have to battle hard to win tomorrow.

The 4-0-1 record built up by the Maple Leafs in the first five game are looking like a pretty good team themselves in the early going, but it's important to keep in mind the Leafs had the exact same record to start last season before the bottom dropped out.Theupstart Leafs and the desperate Bruinswill make an interesting dynamic for both Kessel and a Bruins team in search of a victory fix up -- and upagainst their fierce division rivals in this Year of the Kessel.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

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