Phil Kessel could go the next seven games without a goal. That is his history -- streaky scorer. Runs hot then runs cold. For now he's on a hot streak and man, are the Toronto Maple Leafs happy about that.
Phil Kessel could go the next seven games without a goal. That is his history -- streaky scorer. Runs hot then runs cold.
For now he's on a hot streak and man, are the Toronto Maple Leafs happy about that. Kessel scored a couple of goals Monday night in Edmonton as the Maple Leafs defeated the struggling Oilers 4-0. On the first he showed patience and creativity from close range after taking a pass from centre Nazem Kadri and the second was a sharp-angled seeing-eye that had to been seen to be believed.
The goals give him seven in his last four games on a mere four shots. He also had two assists to move into a tie for second in NHL scoring with nine goals and 18 points. He is tied with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lighting, two points behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.
Kessel, who recently signed a lucrative contract extension that should keep him in Toronto for eight years beyond this season, has never enjoyed a 40-goal season in the NHL, but his current pace has him headed toward a 57-goal year.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle credits Kessel's sudden desire to get his nose dirty for his increased goal total.
"Puck luck is part of it, but skilled players find a way to get goals and the puck kind of follows those guys around," Carlyle said. "He doesn't need many opportunities to score. Again, when he wasn't scoring you could chart where his shots were coming from and tonight, where did he score his goals from? He's going into those dirty areas to get goals.
"That's what has to happen. Goals aren't easy to score in the NHL with good goaltending and good defensive teams. Goal-scorers have to try to find a way to maybe get a little dirtier and he's doing that."
Equally impressive is Kessel's passing ability which really came to light last season. Against the Oilers he made two deft feeds that resulted in goals by James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri. The Kadri goal appeared to be scored by 19-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly, but it was changed by the official scorer. Kadri, apparently, tipped it home for his fifth goal of the season.
That rule may not be set in stone for Carlyle where his goalies are concerned, but after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 at home in a game in which he was named the first star, James Reimer was back between the pipes for Toronto. Reimer responded favorably making 43 saves and recording his first shutout of the season - the 11th of his career. This time he was only the second star behind Kessel.
Toronto took a 1-0 first period lead, but quite easily could have been behind except for two exceptional saves by Reimer on Ales Hemsky who was in tight on both attempts. Actually Hemsky was Edmonton's best player and manufactured his team's three best scoring opportunities. He drilled Riemer in the mask with a close-range shot in the third period.
The Oilers seemed to make every effort possible to physically impede Reimer and the Maple Leafs goalie didn't appreciate the close contact.
"There seemed to be a lot of action around the net and they seemed to be bumping into me quite a bit," Reimer said. "Obviously as a goalie you don't really like that and you hope it doesn't happen too often, but sometimes those are the games you have to play and you have to battle through it to try to see the puck. That was the case tonight."
Carlyle, typically, got a little testy when the subject of his goaltending tandem came up. The Maple Leafs acquired Jonathan Bernier to, at the very least, challenge Reimer to raise the level of his play, but more likely to be the No. 1 stopper. That seemed to be the case early, based on how Carlyle divided their starts, but Reimer has made it clear he won't give up the crease without a fight. Carlyle has acknowledged that.
"We have been criticized and been maligned and been a lot of things in our market because we won't or don't seem willing to declare a No. 1," Carlyle said. "We say we have 1A and 1B. If we can go the rest of the year with 1A and 1B and continue to have our goaltenders perform the way they are, then that's what we'd like to do. We don't know, obviously, if that can happen."
Good news, bad news
The good news for Joffrey Lupul, an Edmonton native, is he was healthy enough to dress. Lupul missed two games with a bruised foot after taking a Paul Ranger shot off the skate in practice. The bad news was, rather than re-joining one of the Maple Leafs top two lines, he was placed with centre Jay McClement and left-winger Carter Ashton. Nothing wrong with McClement or Ashton, but they are plumbers compared to a surgeon like Lupul. Other options? Well, he could have played right winger with David Bolland and Mason Raymond, but that assignment went to David Clarkson. Or he could have played left-wing with Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel, but obviously Carlyle is not going to yank James van Riemsdyk off that line. Maybe it was Carlyle's way of getting Lupul to wear foot protection in practice? It's just hard to imagine one of the league's premier scorers placed on the third line.
Lupul was held pointless in 16:24 ice time with four shots on goal.
Liles deal looming?
The Maple Leafs called up veteran defenceman John-Micahel Liles from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL to travel with the team for the Western road swing. While he didn't dress in Edmonton, one can be forgiven for thinking he may be showcased for a trade at some point. The most obvious possible destination is Calgary where Brian Burke, who signed Liles to his current contract, is now part of the management team. Also, the Flames lost captain and defenceman Mark Giordano with a broken ankle and he is expected to miss eight weeks. If the Maple Leafs trade Liles, you can bet they'll have to swallow some salary.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.