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: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.