Penguins notebook: Kessel draws mixed reaction in return to Toronto
TORONTO — Phil Kessel had an idea of what was coming when he played his first game at Air Canada Centre after a July 1 trade from the Maple Leafs to the Penguins.
“I figure there will be some boos,” he said before the game. “That's always how it is, right?”
Yep, Phil. That's how it is.
A portion of the sellout Saturday night crowd booed every time Kessel touched the puck. Most fans, however, did not.
It's easy to see why the crowd was split.
On one hand, Kessel was the team's leading scorer for each of his six seasons in Toronto.
He scored more goals in a Maple Leafs jersey than the beloved Doug Gilmour. He had more points than Canadian hockey hero Paul Henderson.
On the other hand, five of Kessel's six seasons in Toronto ended without a playoff appearance.
“No regrets from me,” Kessel said. “I signed (an eight-year contract) here. I expected to be here. I guess the Leafs had different plans.”
With only a few reporters in front of his locker, Eric Fehr had all the pregame elbow room he needed as he prepared to make his season debut after offseason elbow surgery. He thanked Kessel for that.
“It's great that I can come back today and have Phil's comeback to Toronto and just slide right in under the radar and not have to worry about anything,” Fehr said. “It's great to get in there and play and just do what I have to do.”
With Fehr in the lineup, 18-year-old winger Daniel Sprong was a healthy scratch for the Penguins.
Sprong has played eight games. Before he plays 10, the Penguins will have to decide whether to keep him and burn the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to juniors.
Despite Saturday's scratch, coach Mike Johnston didn't say anything that could be interpreted as a precursor to sending him packing.
“With Spronger, he may not be in every night,” Johnston said. “For a young guy, sometimes it's good to take a look at the game from up top, get a couple days of practice. It's not like he's going to be in every game, but I feel like his game is really progressing. That's what we wanted. We want to keep his game moving in the right direction.”
Sarge in charge
Sergei Gonchar began his duties as defenseman development coach Saturday, standing behind the bench for morning skate.
He is expected to make the upcoming Western Canada trip with the team.
Toronto coach Mike Babcock is struggling with his daily goaltending decisions.
On Saturday night, Jonathan Bernier got the start over James Reimer, even though Bernier played the night before in a 3-1 loss to the Rangers in New York.
When it comes to career record against the Penguins, Reimer would have been the obvious choice. Coming into the game, he was 4-0-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average. Bernier was 0-4-2 with a 3.31 GAA.
This season, against the league as a whole, Bernier has been a little better. His .904 save percentage is superior to Reimer's .876.
“There's lots of things you do because what you did didn't work,” Babcock said. “I wear a (three-piece suit) for Original Six games. When you lose three in a row, guess what I didn't wear last night? Definition of insanity. I don't know the right answer.”