When you have overcome as much as Phil Kessel has, nothing as trivial as a point streak will get you off your game.
Kessel has beaten cancer, shaken off a playoff benching by coach Claude Julien last season, and taken on the high expectations of being the fifth pick in the 2006 draft. Certainly the pressure of a point streak won’t rattle this 21-year-old from Wisconsin.
“You don’t think about the point streak,” said Kessel, who extended this season’s NHL-best run to 16 games on Thursday night. “You go into the game just thinking about winning the hockey game and trying to help the team win any way you can. If you get a point, you get a point.
“You just want to help the team win, so you go out there and play your game and whatever happens, happens.”
The Bruins, who lead the Eastern Conference, have been winning at a rate Boston hasn’t seen in quite some time. They won 22 of their first 31 games (22-5-4) and carried a robust nine-point lead in the Northeast Division into the weekend. Boston’s closest pursuers are the Montreal Canadiens, who were considered a serious Stanley Cup contender this season.
Kessel had a team-high 19 goals and was second only to linemate Marc Savard in points. He had 31 points in 30 games, three points off Savard’s pace.
Just six months after Kessel was drafted in 2006, he was diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer. Only one month later, after missing just 11 regular-season games, Kessel was back in the Boston lineup — recovered from surgery and deemed cancer free.
“You always love the game, but you never realize how much you miss it until it’s gone,” said Kessel, the NHL’s top star of last week. “I never realized. When you’re not playing, you don’t know what to do. You’re just so bored.
“Now when I look back at it, you just couldn’t be someone that didn’t play hockey. I love it so much. My love for the game, I missed it so much I had to get back right away.”
And he is playing that way now.
Kessel’s point streak is the longest by a Bruins player since Adam Oates had a 20-game run in 1997.
“When you first come in the league, you know some guys can step in right away and produce a lot of points. But you just learn,” Kessel said. “Playing in the NHL is a different game. The guys are big and strong. You’ve got to work to get points and help your team win hockey games.”
HOSSA’S CHOICE: Marian Hossa had big offers on the table during the summer. He could have stayed in Pittsburgh with the Eastern Conference champions or gone elsewhere for an even more lucrative deal.
He did neither, and might not get another chance at such a big free-agent payday when his one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings expires after this season.
“I’m not too worried about that right now,” Hossa said. “I’m just here to play hockey, and we’re going to see what’s going to happen after.”
The economic news that came out of the recent NHL board of governors meeting was bleak, and for the first time since the salary cap set the league’s financial landscape in 2005, the upper limit could drop next season.
“I know the economy is not great right now, but no regrets,” said Hossa, who is earning $7.45 million this season with the Stanley Cup champions. “I came here to Detroit for one reason, and that’s go all the way. We’ll see end of the year if that was right step for me.
“So far it’s been just great experience, having lots of fun, winning games and being part of the great team, and that’s what I was looking for.”
Hossa scored his team-leading 17th goal and added an assist in the Red Wings’ 6-0 statement victory Thursday over the San Jose Sharks — the NHL’s top team. While Detroit is second to the Sharks in the Western Conference, the Red Wings have every intention of defending their title.
Whatever happens in the playoffs, Hossa’s future will again be up in the air — unless he reaches a new deal with the Red Wings before he gets out on the open market again.
“It all depends,” he said. “You know, there’s quite a few people that have to resign also. It also depends on the salary cap, if it’s going to go down, it’s going to stay the same or it’s going to go up. There’s a few things you have to figure out before.
“I’m sure I’ll be smarter during the year, a little later, or after the year and I going to make my decision then. Until now, it’s like not I really think about what’s going to happen next year.”
ABLE KANE: Call 20-year-old Patrick Kane a quick learner.
Coming off a rookie of the year season with the Chicago Blackhawks, Kane is avoiding any kind of sophomore slump. He entered the weekend with 14 goals, a team-high 37 points, and the lead in All-Star voting among Western Conference forwards.
One thing he has picked up on is that six-time Vezina Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings is really, really good.
What might seem obvious to veteran hockey watchers, Kane has seen Lidstrom’s shutdown ability up close in games against the division-rival Red Wings. That was enough for him to rate him as the NHL’s top blue-liner
“I remember a couple of times last year I tried to dump the puck in the zone, and he’ll bat it out of the air,” Kane said. “He’s pretty good at that, and playing five-on-threes against him is like playing a five-on-four. He’s so good with his stick. He’s definitely up there.
“You go down the list, I think (Robyn) Regehr is pretty tough to play against from Calgary. He always gives me a tough game. But probably Lidstrom. Can’t go wrong with that answer, I guess.”
ICE CHIPS: It had been nearly 20 years since a team pulled off a feat like the one the New York Rangers accomplished in their 3-1 victory at Anaheim on Tuesday night. New York netted each of its goals without the benefit of an assist. The only other time since expansion in 1967 that a team scored at least three goals and didn’t record an assist in the game was Feb. 10, 1989, when the Chicago Blackhawks topped the visiting New York Islanders by the same 3-1 score, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Those unassisted goals were scored by Steve Larmer, Everett Sanipass, and Troy Murray.
Before this week, only four active NHL defensemen had scored penalty-shot goals, but that exclusive club suddenly has two more members. Colorado’s Jordan Leopold scored on a penalty shot at Detroit on Monday, and Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival did it Wednesday at Los Angeles. The only other active defensemen to score on a penalty shot are Joe Corvo (2005), Frantisek Kaberle (2006), Scott Niedermayer (1998) and Kimmo Timonen (1999), according to Elias.
Mats Sundin, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, scored 555 goals over 17 seasons with the Quebec Nordiques and Toronto Maple Leafs. He is second to Wayne Gretzky (583) for most career goals scored for Canadian-based NHL teams, the Elias Sports Bureau said.