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Kessel And Leafs Aim To Keep Rolling Versus Avs

Monday, 10.17.2011 / 12:47 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Kessel And Leafs Aim To Keep Rolling Versus Avs

Those undefeated Maple Leafs are 3-0 and tonight they play the Colorado Avalanche at Air Canada Centre.

You should know Phil Kessel is the NHL player of the week thanks to five goals in three games.

Kessel has spent more time in his own end of late and it stands to reason that should he become more involved defensively, his output should rise and not fall.

One great way of pushing his goal total is by dunking pucks into an empty net.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson is fine with that.

“You’d like to see your skilled guys get out there (with an empty net.) Wayne Gretzky scored 92 empty net goals in his career. I’m not sure Brett Hull ever scored one. Brett said they didn’t count.”

But Wilson knows a carrot when he sees one.

“I think Phil would like those opportunities too, but you can’t cheat and let your teammates down. Phil has shown he is willing to get in the grind.”

Much depends on the success of a team, of course, but in the past you could count on Alexander Ovechkin for five empty net goals a year. The Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky and Boston’s Milan Lucic each popped five last season to lead the league.

Kessel meanwhile is leading in goals with five, points with eight and plus-minus with 7. Better yet, he is on pace for 136 goals. To be fair, the Leafs would probably be quite content with 100.

Okay. Now, let’s talk about the fourth line.

Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill have each played once this year.

Meanwhile, David Steckel and Mike Brown have established themselves as anchors of the fourth unit.

So what is happening here? Are we seeing a redeployment of the fourth line? And when Nazem Kadri returns, will he be placed on the fourth unit to give the team four lines with a reasonable chance of scoring.

Don’t bank on it.

Brown did not practice Sunday or skate this morning so it isn’t etched in stone that he will play tonight. If he doesn’t, Wilson will insert Jay Rosehill.
But Wilson sees the fourth line as a pool from which to draw penalty killers (Brown), a faceoff artist (Steckel) and if the opposition is dressing a fighter, a pugilist.

“You need in the course of the night to have a definite shut down line that can still be physical and do some of the dirty things and in particular have guys who can do the penalty kill,” Wilson said.

Brown sees his role evolving.

“It’s not about a heavyweight fighting a heavyweight,” he said. “It’s more about playing the game. There are heavies out there to do that against other heavies. It doesn’t matter who the player is, you have to able to play and make smart plays and when the time comes to fight you can step in.”

Briefly: James Reimer spent much of his morning speaking to the positive impact J.S. Giguere had on his rookie season. Giguere mentored the rookie goalie last season and of all the lessons he imparted, the best was the need for fitness. Reimer arrived into camp having lost a reported 15 pounds after an arduous summertime conditioning regime…The Avalanche present an interesting challenge. The team is 4-1 and built around young talents Matt Duchesne (1 goal, three points), and Gabriel Landeskog. The Swedish rookie has scored twice and added an assist…Don’t look for too many goals tonight. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has steadied the Avs netminding to the tune of 2.17 goals against and .938 save percentage. Reimer, meanwhile, has accrued a 2.34 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

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