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Pierre McGuire's In The Crease

The Panthers, improved under rookie coach Peter DeBoer, may face a tough decision on Jay Bouwmeester (right) who leads the NHL in average ice time. A world-class skater and a shut-down defenseman, Bouwmeester can become a free agent next off-season. If Florida can't sign him long term, it may trade him. . . . Bruins third-year winger Phil Kessel (six goals in eight games) is skating with explosive speed and is shooting so well that he's scoring from 15 to 20 feet. After potting just 19 goals last season, Kessel, the No. 5 pick in the 2006 draft, was scratched three times during Boston's seven-game playoff series with Montreal. Afterward Bruins coach Claude Julien told a miffed Kessel that he was trying to push him to another level. It seems to be working.