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Kessel named NHL’s First Star 12.15.08 at 11:07 am ET
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There are plenty of shinning beacons serving as great examples of the masterful job that Claude Julien has done coaching this Bruins team, but perhaps no example is more dazzlingly brilliant or as stunning as the complete transformation of Phil Kessel.

The 21-year-old has a Beckett-like stubborness when it comes to his considerable hockey abilities — a trait that allows him to think that no one will beat him on the ice and can sometimes make people think that the youngster is cocky — and he’ll never admit that hitting the bench in the playoffs was a learning experience for him.

But it’s undoubtable that Kessel learned a valuable lesson by sitting for two of the Stanley Cup playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens, and that incident served as a bit of a wake-up call to a young player evolving and maturing at the NHL. Credit Julien with a big helping hand in the education of an elite young hockey player. The right wing now does all of the little things required from one of your best hockey players, and he’s put together the all-around hockey game with a veritable offensive explosion. For a team desperately in need of a goal-scorer, Kessel has already matched his output from last season and is on pace to be Boston’s first 50 goal scorer since Cam Neely.

One more other amazing tidbit: Kessel has played in 155 straight hockey games since returning from testicular cancer during the 2005-06 season, and shown an amazing durability and sturdiness in his 6-foot, 189-pound frame.

With that in mind, Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Petr Sykora and Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek were named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Dec 14 — with Kessel taking honors as the First Star.

FIRST STAR — PHIL KESSEL, RW, BOSTON BRUINS: Kessel tallied eight points (three goals, five assists) and extended his point streak to 15 games as the Bruins went 3-1-0, improving their Eastern Conference-leading record to 21-5-4. Kessel recorded one goal and one assist in a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay Dec. 8, notched an assist in a 3-1 loss at Washington Dec. 10, tallied a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win at Atlanta Dec. 12 and closed the week with a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over the Thrashers Dec. 13.

Kessel’s point streak is a career high, the longest in the NHL this season and longest by a Bruins player since Adam Oates recorded points in 20 consecutive games from Jan. 7 to Feb. 20, 1997. The 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native is second in Bruins scoring with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games, ranks third in the NHL in goals and already has matched his career high of 19 goals set last season.

SECOND STAR — PETR SYKORA, RW, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Sykora recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games, beginning with a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss against Buffalo Dec. 8. He recorded his first career NHL hat trick and added one assist in a 9-2 victory over the New York Islanders Dec. 11 and recorded two assists in a 6-3 loss at Philadelphia Dec. 13. The 13-year NHL veteran had entered the Islanders game with 282 career NHL goals, the most among active players who had not recorded a hat trick.

THIRD STAR — THOMAS VANEK, LW, BUFFALO SABRES: Vanek notched a League-leading five goals, including two game-winning tallies, as the Sabres won three of four games. He scored the game-winning goal and became the first player to hit the 20-goal mark in a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh Dec. 8, notched two goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay Dec. 10 and scored twice more in a 4-2 win at New Jersey Dec. 13. Vanek leads the NHL in goals with 24, three more than Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter, and has scored the highest percentage of his team’€™s goals this season (24/81, 29.6%).

Read More: Boston Bruins, Phil Kessel,
Bruins’ pace of scoring at 8:18 am ET
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Though it’s starting to seem more like a MASH unit than a hockey team, injuries haven’t stopped the brazen Bruins from streaking on a number of different fronts. The Back in Black B’s have won 11 straight games within the friendly confines of the TD Banknorth Garden, Phil Kessel has grown into one of the most dangerous scorers in all of the NHL and posted  at least one point in an NHL-best 15 straight games, and veteran netminder Manny Fernandez has emerged from Tim Thomas‘ shadow to win eight straight games.

One has to wonder when some of the myriad injuries will seriously affect a B’s train that just keeps on rollin’, but — in the even better news department — coach Claude Julien is optimistic that Marco Sturm might be available later on this week.

“[Aaron] Ward, lower body, he’€™s still day-to-day.  [Marco] Sturm, upper body, he’€™s actually, yeah, we know about Sturm, but again, my comment with him would be ‘€˜cautiously optimistic’€™ because it was very good [Saturday]. It was even better than [Friday], and you’€™ve heard me say that many times, but unfortunately with those injuries there’€™s sometimes setbacks, but I’€™m going to say cautiously optimistic and he’€™s heading in the right direction,” said Julien. “[He’€™s on the LTIR right now] because, dating it back to when it happened, he’€™s still good for Thursday.  It’€™s the month.  It’€™s just the, I guess you’€™ll call it paperwork.  Nokie [Petteri Nokelainen], upper body.”

The Nokelainen injury could keep the Finnish forward out of the lineup for a week or longer, according to Bruins coach Claude Julien, but Spoked B keeps turning and winning.

Since the Bruins continue to win and ring up points on an incredibly consistent basis, I figured now would be a good time to project some of the current offensive numbers over the course of an entire 82-game regular season. Here it goes along with a brief note for each player that’s been a major factor this season:

Marc Savard (22 goals, 71 assists for 93 points): Savard was on a pace to top 100 points for the first time in his career until going through a bit of a quiet stretch as of late. His current pace is right in line with the rest of his assist-crazy career, but the whopping +46 he’s on pace for would be the stat to focus on when it comes to the nifty centerman.

Phil Kessel (52 goals, 33 assists for 85 points): By far the biggest jump on the team for the Bruins, as he went from solid 40 point threat to bona fide sniper in his third NHL season. Kessel has been deadly on the power play and is on pace to bank 16 power play tallies this season. Would be the first 50 goal scorer for Boston since a guy named Cam Neely if he can stay consistent.

David Krejci (22 goals, 57 assists for 79 points): Krejci has stepped up to give the Black and Gold the kind of strength up the middle at the center position that teams can only dream of. As good as he’s been through the first portion of the season, there’s always the back-of-your-mind feeling that he can be even better than he’s already been. When he unleashes it, the young center has a blistering shot to go along with his keen instincts.

Michael Ryder (27 goals, 30 assists for 57 points): Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that the Greek Chorus was bemoaning Ryder’s inability to live up the free agent contract he signed before the season because he is…like…here to score goals. Well, the critics have curbed their song of woe as Ryder continues to score goals in a big bunch. In seemingly no time at all Ryder has risen to second on the team with 10 goals scored this season.

Milan Lucic (25 goals, 33 assists for 58 points): Looch had stated that his offensive goal this season was to score between 20-30 goals in addition to his typical game of intimidation and rough stuff. For a 20-year-old left winger still learning his craft, a 50 plus point season would represent a quantum leap forward for the big left winger.

Dennis Wideman (19 goals, 30 assists for 49 points): The 25-year-old blueliner has finally arrived at a development spot where people aren’t bringing up Brad Boyes anymore. Many now realize that a legit puck-moving defenseman is worth the same as a potential 40 goal scorer. Wideman is on pace for career-highs in nearly every category while Boyes is on his way to a big minus number with the Blues this season.

Patrice Bergeron (11 goals, 36 assists for 47 points): Bergeron has definitely started out of gate slowly for the Bruins after missing nearly all of last season with a horrific concussion, but he still brings value with his hockey smarts, faceoff ability and defensive responsibility. If he ever gets it going circa 2005-06, this team will be extremely tough to stop.

Blake Wheeler (25 goals, 22 assists for 47 points): The rookie is already ahead of schedule, so numbers like these would be gravy. It isn’t unrealistic to expect his scoring pace to improve as the season goes on — provided he can sidestep the rookie wall he’s sure to run head-long into — if he keeps developing and keeps it in his mind to shoot the puck more.  He’s on a pace for a +49 this season, which is a testament to the responsible two-way hockey he’s played as a 22-year-old rookie.

Zdeno Chara (16 goals and 25 assists for 41 points): Big Z is another player like Bergeron that hasn’t had the best start to his season despite the team’s success, and his slow beginning is also attributable to injury: Chara had surgery to repair a torn labrum after last season. Despite all of the injury talk with Chara, however, the towering blueliner is still averaging a team-best 25:50 of ice time.

Chuck Kobasew (14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points): Kobasew missed the first part of the season after taking a shot off the leg, but has averaged nearly a point per game since his return. Kobasew should easily surpass his projected numbers if he can remain injury-free — a question mark given the rugged way he plays the game of hockey at a relatively small 6-foot and 195 pounds.

Matt Hunwick (8 goals and 30 assists for 38 points): 14 points and a +14 in only 18 games played? Things are looking very promising for the 23-year-old Michigan native, and the quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman could be a member of the Bruins blueline corps for a good long time. What a revelation…he saved this team once injuries hit the blueline.

Marco Sturm (16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points): Sturm got off to a slow start and is now being slowed by a concussion/neck injury that’s caused him to miss 11 straight games. It’s beginning to look like a bit of a lost season for the 30-year-old German winger, but that can certainly change with a healthy, happy second half of the season.

Stephane Yelle (11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points): The 34-year-old center has been a perfect addition at a bargain basement price by GM Peter Chiarelli. Solid on faceoffs once he read the tendencies of his Eastern Conference opponents and invaluable on a much-improved PK unit, Yelle — while no threat for the Hart Trophy — and the intangibles he brings to the table have been everything the Bruins were hoping for.

P.J. Axelsson (3 goals and 19 assists for 22 points): While Axelsson is known for his defensive game and skating ability, the 33-year-old Swede has also potted double-digit goal totals over the last three seasons. It’s been an uncharacteristic slow start for Axy and he’s on pace to be a -14 for the season, but he did register a huge shootout goal against the Blackhawks earlier this season. Amazing that it took 24 games for Axelsson to register his first goal.

Andrew Ference (0 goals and 19 assists for 19 points): The 29-year-old was on pace for his best NHL season when he went down with a broken tibia and he won’t be back until January. Ference’s veteran savvy, grit and experience will be beneficial when the Bruins get to the playoffs. Hunwick has stepped in ably when injuries mounted, but the Bruins will need Ference when the going gets tough.

Shane Hnidy (3 goals and 11 assists for 14 points): The 33-year-old is another Bruins player that is in line to have a career year, and the +30 pace that he’s on would blow away his career-best. Hnidy may see his minutes dwindle once both Ference and Ward return to the fold, but he’s been a solid cog in the blueline corps.

Mark Stuart (8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points): A true stay-at-home defenseman that’s perfected the art of the forearm shiver in his own zone. The 24-year-old has a good, hard shot from the point when he has a chance to utilize it and brings a unique skill set and physical bent to the B’s blueline corps.

Shawn Thornton (3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points): Thornton’s value is in areas that can’t be measured by statistics, but the 31-year-old has never reached double-digit totals in any season during his five-year career. The fearless winger gives the Bruins team much of its courage and sets the tone by always watching the backs of his teammates. He’s on a pace for 169 penalty minutes, which would easily be a career-high.

Aaron Ward (0 goals and 8 assists for 8 points): Ward and Stuart have many of the same skills, but the 35-year-old also obviously brings a degree of leadership and Stanley Cup experience that many on this young team simply don’t have. Ward is another vital cog once this team reaches the “tournament”

Petteri Nokelainen (0 goals and 3 assists for 3 points): The 22-year-old would like to score some goals to go along with his fourth line duties, but he’s a solid energy forward with excellent faceoff abilities if/when Yelle is tossed out of the dot. One other little tidbit: Nokie leads the Bruins in penalties drawn this season with an amazing 10 in his limited playing time on the fourth line. A testament to how much grit and smarts the youngster plays with.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Marc Savard
Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Thrashers 2 12.14.08 at 9:38 am ET
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The Bruins made it 11 straight home wins with a 4-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night at the Garden. The Bruins roll into four straight off days as the club with the second-highest point total in the NHL. Only San Jose, with a remarkable 24-3-2 record and 50 points, can boast a better mark than Boston’s 21-5-4 mark. With Phil Kessel collecting his 19th goal and Michael Ryder scoring twice, David Krejci continues to fly under the radar of some. But he won’t for long if he continues to pile up the points like he did on Saturday. Three more assists give him a team-leading 21 helpers.

David Krejci is enjoying the roll the team is on right now.

Michael Ryder appreciated the support from another electric crowd at the Garden Saturday night.

Phil Kessel on his scoring streak, which reached 15 games on Saturday night.

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Phil Kessel,
Chara to the rescue… 12.13.08 at 8:58 pm ET
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One thing a captain does is stand up for his teammates, under any and all circumstances. When Boris Valabik tried to intimidate Phil Kessel in front of the Thrashers net in the second period Saturday night, Zdeno Chara came in like a raging bull and made sure that his countryman knew that wasn’t acceptable.

“It’€™s the number one thing to be playing as a team and stick up for each other,” Chara explained. “That’€™s one of the main things on this team, to stick up for each other.”

Kessel certainly appreciated it.

“I just think it says a lot about him, coming to my defense like that,” Kessel said. “He’s a great captain, a great guy and shows what type of team guy he really is.”

Chara may have taken 17 minutes in penalties, but coach Claude Julien didn’t just give Chara a pass, he applauded the message he delivered.

‘€œIt was the right thing to do. It was for the right reasons,” Julien said.

“That was good by Z,” added David Krejci, who aided the Bruins cause with three assists on the night. “I was actually pretty surprised because Valabik, I’m pretty sure they know each other from Slovakia. It was nice to see Z stick up for Phil.”

That’s what happens when your team is 21-5-4, winners of 11 straight on home ice.

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Manny Fernandez, Phil Kessel
Bruins 4, Thrashers 2, Final at 5:26 pm ET
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Best battle of the night with 3:46 left in the third when 6’9″ Zdeno Chara went up against Atlanta’s Boris Valabik, who stands 6’7″, with Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting roaring over the loudspeakers. Valabik grew up in Chara’s homeland of Slovakia, styling his game after Chara.

Full disclosure, neither pugilist landed any significant blows.

But Dennis Wideman did when he connected for his second power play goal of the night, beating Johan Hedberg at 18:16 of the second period.

Phil Kessel collected his own rebound on a power play shot on Atlanta’s Johan Hedberg. The Thrashers goalie stopped the first but not the second at 6:00 of the first as Kessel lit the lamp for the 19th time this season.

Not only does that figure far and away lead the team, it already matches his career best set last season and extends his point streak to 15 games.

Michael Ryder added his ninth of the season at 13:43 even strength, a weak backhand that was mishandled by Hedberg.

The Bruins had a golden chance to break open the game but Hedberg came up big on a five-on-three Boston power play for one minute, 37 seconds.

The Thrashers turned that momentum into a goal when Nathan Oystrick fired a slap shot from the left point through a mass of bodies infront of Manny Fernandez, cutting Boston’s lead in half.

Some notes at the end of one…

The Bruins are 9-2-1 when they lead after one this season.

The Thrashers are 1-10-1 when they trail after one.

The Bruins have outscored their opponents 66-37 in the second and third periods this season.

Martins Karsums is playing his first NHL game tonight and is on the fourth line with Vladimir Sobotka and Shawn Thornton.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Johan Hedberg, Phil Kessel,
Bruins-Lightning Game Day… 5-3, Bruins Final 12.08.08 at 5:20 pm ET
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The Tampa Bay Lightning made life a little tougher than expected in the closing moments as Paul Szczechura scored with 19.0 seconds remaining to make it a one-goal game, 4-3. But P.J. Axelsson, who has been snake bit this season, including earlier in the game when he was stopped on a penalty shot, fired his first goal into an open net with 10.0 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 win.

The B’s came out on fire, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after one before Tampa Bay took advantage of some sloppiness in the second and third.

“I thought we played with fire tonight. We’re not going to win many games playing like that,” coach Claude Julien said afterward.

It was Boston’s tenth straight win at home, a new record for the TD Banknorth Garden, dating back to the days of the FleetCenter. After starting 0-1-1 in their first two home games, the Bruins now stand 10-1-1 on home ice.

Martin St. Louis re-directed a shot from Vincent Lecavalier at 9:27 of the third period as the Tampa Bay Lightning cut the Bruins lead to 4-2, at 9:27 of the third.

After Tampa Bay’s Adam Hall crashed the net and put back a loose puck to make it 3-1 Boston, the Bruins have had their chances to blow open a two-goal game late in the second.

P.J. Axelsson, with 10:28 remaining in the second, was awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked from behind on a clear path to goalie Mike Smith. But Smith came up big, stopping Axelsson down low and keeping the Bruins lead at three goals. Tampa Bay remained on the power play.

Chuck Kobasew was stoned by Smith with 3:17 remaining in the second. But a five-on-three power play was the back-breaker for the Lightning as David Krejci fed Zdeno Chara at the top of the left circle. Chara’s slap shot bomb was too much for Smith, making it 4-1.

The Lightning, who are just 1-4-4 in the nine games under new coach Rick Tocchet, showed their true grit in the second, outshooting Boston 9-7 and showing some signs of life.

So far so quiet in the second. After outshooting the Lightning 13-5 in the first, Tampa took four of the first six shots in the second and each team is 0-for-1 on the power play in the middle stanza.

On their second power play of the night the Bruins opened the flood gates on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They were unable to score on their first one when Steven Stamkos was called for holding the stick. But as that penalty expired, Paul Ranger was called for slashing. Milan Lucic just missed Phil Kessel who was coming down the slot for a shot on an open net. But moments later Dennis Wideman found Lucic in the low slot for his seventh goal of the season at 6:44. Bruins are 1-for-2 on the man advantage. Kessel also got an assist on the goal that beat Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith, extending Kessel’s career-best point streak to 12 games. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel,
Savard on Dale and Holley 12.02.08 at 4:47 pm ET
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Marc Savard has been in the middle of the most effective and high-powered Bruins line this season and he’s putting up some pretty good numbers for himself in the process: Savard has been among the NHL’s scoring leaders all season, collected his 600th career point earlier this year and is widely considered a strong candidate to put together his second All-Star season in a campaign that’s already garnered him National notice. Savvy sat down for a phone interview with Dale and Holley this afternoon to talk about his two young linemates, PJ Axelsson’sunique fashion sense and whether he ever had second thoughts about signing with Boston. Here’s the transcript:

You had a nice little run there in November. MS: We obviously had a good run. We didn’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. We just kept working and that was the big thing. We’re a team that knows we have to work hard to win, and we were able to do that.

You’ve had a string of games there and some regularity in the schedule, and now you’ve got some time off. Is that something where you would have liked to keep playing? MS: I think this time off is good. We’ve been going at it pretty hard here in the month of November, and I think some time off really helps a lot with the bumps and bruises that guys have that nobody knows about. We’re resting those up and getting ready to go south, so we’re getting ready for that.

Speaking of that, you had some bumps and bruises yourself. You took a hit against Florida that some might view as questionable. Did you think it was dirty? MS: I’m not sure. I think it was a good hit. It came in low, but it was just a hip check and you can’t really complain about that. But as we’ve done all year Wardo jumped in there and helped me out when he thought it wasn’t a legal hit. We’ve been covering each other’s backs like that all year and it was a good job by Wardo to do that. It was a little bit of a charley horse there, but no real damage done.

We brought up this point to Milan Lucic last week. This team is tougher this year. When did that attitude change for this team? MS: I really think it was last year, and then we got into the playoffs against Montreal and grew as a group and we really took big steps. We put [the Canadiens] against the wall and almost snuck out that seven game series. I think coming into this year we knew that we had a pretty good hockey team and we just had to put it out there on the ice.  We’ve been able to do that this year. We’ve had each other’s backs for a long time.

We’ve got some big boys. We’re not only tough dropping the gloves, but we can bang with the best of them when we have to. We’re a good team, we have good balance and hopefully we can keep doing what we have to do to win.

Big Picture: you recently scored your 600th career point. When you first played hockey, what were your expectations for yourself? MS: Okay, when I first started playing and when I was growing up in Canada I dreamed of playing in the NHL, and that was my dream. At junior hockey I kind of knew that if I put in the time then I could achieve [the NHL] and then once I got here I honestly never thought I’d get 600 points and be as productive as I’ve been as a player.

I’m come a long way as a player and I’ve learned a lot and had some great coaches along the way and had some ups and downs as a player along the way. I’ve learned a lot. I think in the last few years I’ve seemed to grow and grow and keep getting better at the game and learning every day. Just trying to work hard and having a lot of fun doing it. Who knows how many more that I’ll get, but I’m enjoying my time right now and I am thankful for what I have done.

Who was your guy that you grew up wanting to be like? MS:

Oh, it was Wayne Gretzky for sure.  As a kid it was Gretzky everything, and  I used to have his video called “Hockey, My Way” and I would pop it in before every game I went to. I would watch his highlight goals and always try to emulate everything he did. He was the Greatest to play the game as far as I was concerned. Obviously I got the chance to play  with him in New York. It was tough because I got caught watching him all the time and being around him was a special thing.

I always felt a little nervous, but he was a great guy and he would always tell me to just be myself and act normal because he was just a normal person. It was a special thing.

The Bruins made a big splash when they signed Z and they signed you. Did you ever have second thoughts about coming here? MS: No, I always loved this city. Every time I came in as a visiting player I always loved the city and thought this would be a good place to play. When Peter called me on July 1 I had a couple of offers too but this one kept jumping up at me because I’ve always loved this city and I love playing in Boston. I’m happy and I’m really happy now obviously, but there were some growing pains coming here and I went through a tough year my first year. But we really built off that last year and had a great season. This year we want to do more and keep getting better.

I imagine Claude Julien wants you guys to be happy with how things are going, but he doesn’t want you to be satisfied. MS: Exactly. He keeps reiterating that to us and he’s not going to let us get comfortable around here…that’s for sure. That’s his job and he’s done a good job with it at that. We keep coming to the rink and he keeps putting it in our heads that we’re a good team but if we don’t work then we’re not very good. So he keeps putting it in our heads and it’s in there. Even today in practice today if we’re not doing a good job he’ll stop practice and let us know and bring us back down to earth.

We don’t get too high around here and we just keep it even. We know we’ve got 60 games left still and there’s a lot that can happen. We keep bringing up the Ottawa Senators who got off to a flying start last year and then kind of went down. We can’t get too high. We just keep trying to play hard do things right.

I’m sure there are adjustments you’ve had to make as opposed to when you were in Atlanta with Kovalchuk and Heatley? MS: Well, I think the big thing is playing with those guys they were my No. 1 options and pretty much I went with them most of the time. Where here I’ve had to look around a little more and I’ve always been one of those guys that if you’re open then I’m getting it to you…It doesn’t matter who you are. But in Atlanta, Kovalchuk was my No. 1 target and that worked out well.

Playing with Kessel and Lucic we’ve got a great thing going and we’re having a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. They’re great kids and they make me feel like a kid skating with them and I’m really enjoying it. We’ve got a good mix going and hopefully we can keep it going.

What have they taught you? They must have some pop culture stuff going on you haven’t heard of? MS: They’re excited all the time and they’re little chirpers. They chirp me all the time so we have a lot of fun with that. They keep me cool, I guess, yeah. They keep me cool and up to date with what’s going on in the younger world. We have a lot of fun with that.

Those that think Lucic just drops the gloves are missing out on a lot. He’s got some skills. MS: Yeah, I keep going back to Day One when he came out and i got to play with him against the Islanders in the first exhibition game. I went to Peter Chiarelli, our GM, after the game and I remember just saying this kid can play, he’s ready and he’s got more skills than people give him credit for. It’s become evident each day when he’s out there. He makes those little plays, he’s great along the wall and he knows where the net is and he’s going to keep growing.

I think the sky is the limit for him and I hope I’m around for a lot longer than next year because I enjoy playing with those guys and I enjoy playing in this city.

When Phil Kessel got benched in the playoffs last year he could have gone in two directions, and it seems as if he’s really gone in the right direction since then. MS: Yeah, exactly. When he was sat out in the playoffs I had a chance to talk to him and I just told him to really stay with it. I know it’s a bit different these days because a lot of these kids get a chance to play right away. I know when I came in with the Rangers I would play two games and sit two, so I just told him to keep his head on straight and work hard and be ready because you’re going to get another chance. He’s obviously run with that and taken the high road. He works hard every day and he’s getting better at both side of the rink every day too. Obviously his speed is incredible and I love playing with him because I can take advantage of that.

Does Phil remind you of anybody? MS: Well, he has a lot of Kovalchuk in him too with the speed and the skill level and getting to holes really fast. He does. He’s just a great player and the sky is the limit for him too. That’s why I want to say around here and stay on this line for a long time. That would be a lot of fun.

What did you guys think that Claude Julien tapped PJ Axelsoon for the shootout a few weeks ago? MS: Send the Swede in, Oh no! Axy has been working on in practice and he’s a skilled forward. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that and he hasn’t scored yet this year, but that’s coming. He’s got some great hands on him and he’s patient with the puck, so the shoout out fits him pretty good and obviously he’s proven that.

That’s the highlight goal of the year. MS: It was and he lets us know it all the time…that’s for sure.

People that don’t know, he’s also Mr. Fashion on that team. MS: Yeah, but he’s Mr. Fashion out of left field, though. He’s got some fashion that we’ve never seen before. I guess if you call it fashion, then he’s pretty fashionable.

Well he isn’t Aaron Ward-type fashionable. He’s got his own style. MS: Yeah he’s out there for sure. He’s not Aaron Ward Mr. GQ, but he’s got PJ Axelsson GQ.

Read More: Claude Julien, Marc Savard, Milan Lucic, Peter Chiarelli

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