Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 12/15/08 at 07:16 PM ET
Today’s guest on the NHL’s conference call was Boston Bruins right wing Phil Kessel, who answered questions from numerous members of the hockey media.
Earlier today Phil was named NHL ‘First Star’ for the week that ended yesterday after leading the National Hockey League in scoring with three goals and five assists for eight points. The Bruins won three of four games for the week. Phil has the NHL’s longest active point streak, which is currently at 15 games, and the longest streak for a Bruin since Adam Oates had a 20-game streak in January and February of 1997. The Madison, Wisconsin native ranks second on the Bruins in scoring with 31 points and his 19 goals are third in the League behind Thomas Vanek of Buffalo, who has 24, and Jeff Carter of Philadelphia with 21.
Q & A
Q. Are you still playing mostly with Marc Savard at center and Milan Lucic on the left wing?
PHIL KESSEL: Yeah, that’s who I’m playing with right now. I enjoy playing with both those guys. They’re both great hockey players.
Q. Savard is somebody who also had this honor about a month ago when he had a really big point streak. Can you talk about his passing skills, the way he’s playing this year? He’s winning most of his faceoffs this year. Why is he so good on those?
PHIL KESSEL: I think he’s a skill guy. I think he looks for stuff off draws, that good centermen do, to win so many. About his passing skills, I mean, if you watch him, he’s in the top couple passers in the League every year in assists because he has such great vision out there. He sees the ice really well. He reads plays really well. He finds the open guys any time they’re open.
Q. Coming into this year, did you anticipate this team would be this good or has it caught you by surprise? How much fun is it to come to the rink?
PHIL KESSEL: Whenever you’re winning, it makes the game a lot better. When you come to the rink, you’re winning games, you have a lot of fun, you enjoy it even more. We have a great bunch of guys. So we’re winning everything. You show up to the rink, you have a lot of fun with all the guys, they are all great guys, and I think we all get along so well.
Q. Can you put your finger on why the team has crossed the bridge to go from a team that was just trying to compete to being the elite team in the Eastern Conference?
PHIL KESSEL: I don’t know, we’re just playing our game. We’re going out there, working hard, trying to do all the little things, just improving as a team. I think a lot has to do with how close we are as a team. I think everyone gets along really well on our team. We all would do anything for another guy on our team.
Q. A guy you’re familiar with before he got there, Blake Wheeler, they’ve talked a lot about the rookies this season, but he’s not getting a lot of attention even though he has an amazing plus-minus and scored some goals. How would you rate his performance thus far?
PHIL KESSEL: I think he’s been great so far this year. I think Blake’s a great hockey player. As you can tell, he’s scoring goals, he’s putting up points, too. He’s playing good two-way hockey. You look at it, what is he, +18 on the year or something up there? He’s a great player. I think he should be getting a lot more recognition within the rookie race this year because I think he’s playing really well.
Q. When you have a point streak going, are you conscious of it going into the game? Or if you got into the third period, you didn’t have a point yet, your team was ahead, would you try to get something going? And what has Claude Julien taught you maybe you didn’t do before that you’re now doing now that’s made you a better player?
PHIL KESSEL: Well, you don’t think about the points streak. 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. But, you know, you just want to help the team win, so you go out there and play your game and whatever happens, happens. But the biggest thing you worry about is winning the hockey game.
Claude, you know, I think it’s just more defensive stuff, play good two-way hockey. If you play good in your defensive end, you’ll get good chances on the offensive end, too.
Q. Last year in the playoffs, I don’t think you played every game. Was that an awakening?
PHIL KESSEL: You know, it’s a tough situation. You never want to not play a hockey game. You want to be out there trying to help your team win. But I guess that was his decision at that time. Moved on ever since.
Q. Are you always thinking to shoot first? You’ve always been a really good goal-scorer. You got quick hands. Are you always looking to shoot?
PHIL KESSEL: You look to make the right play. If a guy’s open, you’re going to give him the puck. If you have a good opportunity to shoot or score a goal, you’re going to do that also.
Q. I read some stories about you and Claude Julien. He said once he convinced you not to cheat, and I suppose he means by that leaving the defensive zone early, that you have an understanding now that this is where you actually get the puck and where you take off with the puck. Has it changed your game?
PHIL KESSEL: I don’t think it’s changed my game. But he instilled you have to play good two-way hockey to get more offensive chances. I think this year myself and my line, a lot of other guys, basically our whole team is playing good two-way hockey, so it’s creating good chances on the offensive end for us from our defensive zone.
Q. What little habits did you have to change? It’s easy to say play good two?way hockey, but sometimes saying that and doing it are different things.
PHIL KESSEL: Just not cheating on the offensive side. You’ve got to think. You’d rather not give up a goal when you’re in the defensive end. You want to score goals, but you can’t give up goals to score goals either.
Q. The point a game pace, is this what you envisioned yourself coming out of the draft a few years ago, being this type of player that can produce like you are now?
PHIL KESSEL: Well, I think you always think you want to produce and help your team in any way that you can. You just go out there and play. You don’t worry about the points, that kind of stuff. I never worried about points my whole life. You go out there and play and you hope to play good hockey and points will come.
Q. Does it make it a little more satisfying, I don’t know if that’s the word, being the high draft pick you were?
PHIL KESSEL: The draft is just a number. You just go out there and play. Like I was saying, you just help your team win any way you can and just keep improving.
Q. Phil, your evolution as a hockey player, can you talk about that a little? Are you on pace where you thought you might be about now? Are you ahead of schedule? Are you behind schedule?
PHIL KESSEL: I don’t think you ever look at if you’re on pace or ahead of schedule. You know, like I was saying, you just try to improve each day, go work hard and try to get better as a player, do whatever you can to help the team win.
Q. Did you think it might take a couple years before you got to the level you’re currently at?
PHIL KESSEL: You know, you just learn. 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. 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. And you just learn how good players really are in the NHL.
Q. Going back to last spring, any correlation between being scratched and your success thereafter?
PHIL KESSEL: No, I don’t think so. Obviously you never want to get scratched in any hockey game. You’ve just got to improve your game. Obviously you never want that to happen. It’s a tough situation for anyone to deal with. But you just got to move on and try to get better after.
Q. What, if anything, are you doing differently this season?
PHIL KESSEL: I don’t think I’m doing anything that different. I think it has a lot to do with my linemates and my teammates. They’re finding me in good situations. I think playing with Milan (Lucic) and (Marc) Savard, they give you good passes. Whenever you’re open, they’re going to find you. I think we’ve got good chemistry going on the line right now.
Q. If you think back to the day you were drafted, the Bruins were not as competitive a team as they are now. The injuries that you have had this year that have not slowed you down. You had Marco Sturm out for almost a month, Aaron Ward and Ference are both out. The depth of this team down through Providence is impressive. What do you think of the depth and the job that your GM has done?
PHIL KESSEL: Well, there’s a lot of depth down in Providence. Obviously guys have stepped up really well. Hunny (Matt Hunwick) is playing great for us this year. Lash (Matt Lashoff) came in and stepped up when Aaron got hurt. I think like Marty Karsums played the other night. I thought he played a great game. I think he was a little nervous, but he went out there and did a great job for us. I think whoever we plug in the lineup, we’re confident in those guys, we know they’re great hockey players.
Q. You seem to be taking more shots this year than last year. Is that conscious effort on your part? Any lingering effects from your cancer scare a couple years ago?
PHIL KESSEL: I don’t think I’m trying to shoot the puck more. I just think playing with Marc, he’s finding me in good areas out there, getting a lot better opportunities to shoot the puck, real good scoring opportunities. I’m not trying to shoot more, but I guess I must be getting more shots.
My cancer’s fine. Everything’s going good there. I have to get checkups every once in a while, every couple months. But there’s nothing. I’m healthy.
Q. Unless I’m mistaken I think you’ve played in every single regular-season game since you came back from cancer a couple years ago. I think it’s 155. First of all, is that something you take a lot of pride in? How does that speak to your love of the game of hockey?
PHIL KESSEL: I’d never, never, never want to miss a game. I love it so much. Even if you have little bumps and bruises, you’re always going to play. I don’t know. I guess I’m fortunate to not have any injuries so far, really bad injuries. So you just go out there and play and hopefully nothing happens.
Q. Did you need your love of hockey reinforced having missed it for a while, or was that something you knew how much you loved the game before any of that happened to you?
PHIL KESSEL: You always love the game, but you never realize how much you miss it until it’s gone. You know, I never realized. When you’re not playing, you don’t know what to do. You’re just so bored. I just couldn’t - 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.
Q. Tell me about Lucic, a local guy out of Vancouver. When you were in town here, he was treated like a hero. How good is this kid going to be? How good is he now?
PHIL KESSEL: He’s a good hockey player. Obviously you watch him out there, he’s very physical. He’s a big guy out there. He has great hands and great vision, too. He can score goals. You look at him, I think he has over 20 points this year, right around 10 goals. He’s a good player. So he’s going to be a great player in the League to come. I love playing with him.
Q. Here in Vancouver they think he’s a folk hero in Boston like Cam Neely was. Is that happening? Is that the way it is in Boston right now?
PHIL KESSEL: I think the fans really like Milan here. I think they all support him. He’s a great guy on and off the ice. He’s a good hockey player.
Q. All you have to do is score and fight?
PHIL KESSEL: I guess.
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