With his team 4-5-1 over its last 10 and three points back of the final playoff spot in the East, Toronto head coach Ron Wilson sent a message yesterday, breaking up the All-Star duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.
“We’re looking for overall balance,” Wilson told the Globe and Mail. “Balance between offence and defence. We’ve got to keep more pucks out of our net – not make silly mistakes that result in a goal against.”
While it’s unclear what silly mistakes Wilson is referring to, there’s no shortage of candidates. The most recent ones came during Toronto’s 3-2 loss to Ottawa where the Kessel-Lupul-Tyler Bozak line was on the hook for the Senators’ first two goals — but there have been plenty of other miscues over the last few weeks as Kessel and Lupul went a combined minus-10 over three straight Leafs losses.
“Some lines have been getting scored on way too much in the last 10 or 15 games,” Wilson said (without directly naming names). “At least for a period, we’ll see if something like [shuffling the lineup] helps us.”
The break-up may have hit Kessel and Lupul hard, as they both declined to speak with reporters following Wednesday’s practice. The two have played nearly 90 percent of their even-strength time together this year, Lupul has been on the ice for all but four of Kessel’s 49 points and both are headed to the All-Star game based largely on the chemistry they’ve developed this season.
According to the Globe, Toronto’s new-look top two lines for Thursday’s game against Minnesota will be:
Matt Lombardi-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul-Tim Connolly-Nazem Kadri
Those who feel as though the Boston Bruins may rebound – John Tortorella, maybe? – likely rest some of their optimism on the back of a healthy Zdeno Chara.
It’s possible that he’s merely limping into what may otherwise be a healthy 2015-16 season, but it’s definitely looking like a slow start thanks to a lower-body injury.
The latest sign of a bumpy beginning came on Monday, as several onlookers (including CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty) pointed out that Chara was listed on injured reserve.
As Haggerty notes, that move is retroactive to Sept. 24, so his status really just opens up options for the Bruins.
Still … it’s a little unsettling, isn’t it?
The Bruins likely realize that they need to transition away from their generational behemoth, but last season provided a stark suggestion that may not be ready yet. Trading Dougie Hamilton and losing Dennis Seidenberg to injury only make them more dependent on the towering 38-year-old.
This isn’t really something to panic about, yet it might leave a few extra seats open on the Bruins’ bandwagon.
Zack Kassian may have avoided major injuries stemming from his Sunday car accident, but it likely sent the signal that he may need help.
The response: he was placed in Stage Two of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH) of the NHL and NHLPA on Monday.
According to the league’s release, Kassian “will be suspended without pay until cleared for on-ice competition by the program administrators.”
Speaking of being suspended without pay, here’s a key detail:
The 24-year-old ended up with a broken nose and broken foot from that accident. The 2015-16 season was set to be his first campaign in the Montreal Canadiens organization after a tumultuous time with the Vancouver Canucks.
Kassian spoke of becoming more mature heading to Montreal, but the Canadiens were critical of his actions, wondering how many wake-up calls someone can get.
In case you’re wondering about the difference between stage one and two: