When he is on his game, there are few players in the NHL who are more electrifying that Phil Kessel
Though he is best known as a goal-scorer, his passing ability is not to be underestimated. Maple Leafs fans got to see both Monday night.
Phil the Thrill scored a goal and added an assist as the Maple Leafs won their fifth game in a row while trying to become a playoff fixture again. The Maple Leafs beat the Coyotes 4-2
Toronto plays in Colorado Tuesday night.
Kessel was his team's best player in the early going when the Maple Leafs showed a much-needed surge of energy on the first of a four-game road trip. He has had a definite jump in his step in recent games that has helped his team turn things around after the team fell out of a playoff position.
Kessel, along with the rest of his team, seemed to hit the wall midway through the contest, but held on nevertheless. At the end of the day he had a positive impact on his team's winning effort.
"With Kess, he's a kid who can score goals," said coach Randy Carlyle. "The puck finds him and he doesn't need many chances to score goals and when he gets hot everything he shoots has a chance to go in because he has a skill set that the puck follows him around and those are signs of great players."
Kessel is not exactly known for taking one for the team; putting himself in physical danger, that is. He avoids being hit like most of us avoid crossing the path of a skunk.
And yet there he was late in the first period taking a puck along the backboards knowing full well he was going to be crunched by a defender. He made the play anyway and it turned out to be a pass that resulted in defenceman Jake Gardiner scoring his fourth goal of the season
to give the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead.
The funny thing is, centre Nazem Kadri was the one shouting, "Phil!," looking for the pass in front of the net, but it slithered through to Gardiner who made no mistake.
On Saturday against Montreal, he demonstrated unprecedented determination in 1-on-1 battles, and while he had a goal and an assist in that game, it was his grunt work in the danger zones that was most impressive.
In his past six games, Kessel has four goals and 12 points.
Happy, but not satisfied
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle appreciates his team's winning streak and the effort his players have made to draw closer to playing the style he wants to see nightly. However, he believes his team is very much a work in progress.
"I just believe this group can continue to grow and play to a higher level," Carlyle said. "Enough talking about it. It is tike action speaks louder than words. We have got to continue to grow this group to challenge and be a playoff team. That was the statement we made before and we're going to continue to make it because we believe in this group. We believe we can play to a higher level and we believe they believe they have got more."
Oly goalie vs. wanna-be Oly goalie
Early in the season there was a notion Toronto's Jonathan Bernier might work himself into contention to be one of the three goalies chosen to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics. Admittedly it was mostly generated by Toronto media. In order to be selected it likely would have meant that Mike Smith, the No. 3 goalie on Canada's depth chart would not have made the grade. We all know how that worked out. Bernier has played very well for the Maple Leafs, but Smith got the nod along with Canucks' Roberto Luongo, the leading candidate to be Canada's starter, and Canadiens' Carey Price. It is worth noting Bernier beat Price last Saturday.
Gunnar snipes one
With the Coyotes about to be penalized and Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarsson deep in the offensive zone, he figured he might as well hang around in front of the Phoenix end when his team had possession of the puck. Good decision. He got the puck in front of the net and scored his first foal of the season
to make it 3-0. It was his first goal since Jan. 24, 2013.
Bernier appeared well on his way to earning his second shutout of the season through two periods, but when Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf was assessed a measly tripping penalty on a play that was already called offside by the officials, the Coyotes responded with a power play goal by Mike Ribeiro.
Carlyle argued with the officials and looked entirely delighted and appeased by their response. Really.
Okay, not really. He was perturbed.
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