Posted October 20, 2011 on AP on Fox
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Phil Kessel is tired of talking about how he struggles against the Boston Bruins. He's certainly doing just fine for the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs this season. The NHL's top scorer, Kessel looks to continue his torrid start Thursday night when the Maple Leafs open a four-game trip against his former club. Kessel spent his first three seasons in Boston (2-4-0), and led the Bruins with a career-high 36 goals in 2008-09 before being acquired by Toronto (4-0-1). He's struggled to show that scoring punch for the Leafs when facing the Bruins, notching two goals and four assists in 12 meetings. That's one reason he continues to be a focal point when Toronto faces its Original Six rival. "It gets old when you guys ask all the time," Kessel said. "You know, it's a couple years ago. I don't get jitters any more. Going back that first year I was a little nervous. "They're a great team and we're going to have to battle hard to win." Kessel's outstanding start to the season may have him poised for a strong showing in Boston this time. The right wing leads the league with seven goals and 12 points, helping the Maple Leafs earn nine of a possible 10 points during a season-opening five-game homestand. He continued that run with a goal and two assists in a 4-3 shootout win over Winnipeg on Wednesday. Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson sees a change in Kessel, who is known for going on impressive streaks only to follow them with long dry spells. He had seven goals and two assists through the first eight games last season, but then went without a point in the next seven. "Only time will tell if he finds a way to be more consistent," Wilson said. "But I don't see any holes in his game right now. He's backchecking, forechecking, making good decisions with the puck and staying on top of things. He wants the puck all the time, he's demanding it and he's getting it. That's the big thing." Despite his overall struggles against the Bruins, Kessel had five points in the last three meetings as the Maple Leafs won four of six in 2010-11, including 2-1-0 at Boston. Kessel isn't the only Toronto player scoring with regularity. Joffrey Lupul has four goals and three assists after scoring a pair of goals in regulation before converting again in the shootout Wednesday. Lupul had two goals and an assist in a 4-3 shootout win at Boston on March 31. While the Leafs are off to a surprising start, the Bruins are showing signs of frustration. They've dropped three of four, and totaled 72 penalty minutes in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Carolina to begin a four-game homestand. Even coach Claude Julien was issued a game misconduct for arguing with officials with 3:44 to play. "What I see is frustration setting in and the minute we start getting frustrated we lose focus of our game and then it gets worse and worse," Julien told the team's official website. "And that's been a bit of a pattern this year." Tim Thomas, 2-2-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average, could be back in net after Tuukka Rask lost his second consecutive start with a 19-save performance Tuesday. Thomas, though, has lost his last four meetings with Toronto behind a 3.29 GAA, while Rask - a first-round pick of the Leafs in 2005 - is 5-1-0 with a 1.76 GAA in seven matchups.
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