October 29, 2011

Kessel Nets the Winner for the Maple Leafs

Phil Kessel scored halfway through the 3rd period tonight to put the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead 4-3 over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is Kessel's  league leading 10th goal of the season and was also the game winner. Just 9 months ago in Raleigh, North Carolina Phil Kessel was picked last overall in the 36 player NHL all star draft. At that time he had 19 goals and 15 assists for 34 points in 49 games, but the statistic that stood out most was is +/- rating of -19. Some people argued that Phil Kessel didn't deserve to even be at the all star game or that he wasn't even the best player on the Leafs, Mikhail Grabovsky was and he was sitting at home watching the game on tv. Some other people argued that it was because he played in Toronto and that was the reason for being selected last.

I don't know why Kessel went last but I do know that since that day Phil Kessel has been a different hockey player, a better hockey player and that the Maple Leafs have been a better team. After the all star break last season the Maple leafs went on a tear and almost made the playoffs. In those last 33 games Kessel had 13 goals and 30 points. More importantly his +/- improved as he was -1 during that stretch. People say James Reimer was the reason for the Leafs turnaround last year, I am not so sure.

This season, Toronto is among the Eastern Conferences best teams and they lead the Northeast Division. They have still been winning games even with Reimer on the sidelines with a head injury. The one constant is Phil Kessel. With his 1 goal and 1 assist performance against the East leading Penguins tonight Kessel's totals improved to 10 goals and 18 points, good enough to lead the NHL in both categories. Kessel is getting it done defensively as well with his +6 rating. Coach Ron Wilson has even been using Kessel to defend 1 goal leads during the last minute of play. This time last year he would have been on the bench.

I don't know if the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs or not this year, but I do know one thing, if Phil Kessel continues to play this way he won't be the last guy picked at the all star game this year.

Mike Lord

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