Custom Search

Forget the lost draft picks, Leafs need Kessel to produce...right now

As I mentioned recently, the Leafs are one of those teams looking for something—a good bounce, a comeback, a big save at the right time—anything, to re-energize their confidence and set them on a streak of sorts.

As fans, it’s easy to cling to any signs of hope.  But hey, that’s what fans have to do.  When the Leafs had their three-goal outburst late in the second period, I wondered: could that be that catalyst?

The third-period St. Louis comeback (somewhat reminiscent of the 5-0 lead that went away in the third period against the Blues a few years ago) kind of burst that bubble, but the Leafs still won in the shootout, with Vertseeg scoring when they needed it and Bozak delivering as well to secure the win.

It doesn’t feel like the kind of a game that will trigger a streak, but we’ll see.

Boyce:  determination trumps a lot of things.  And he has shown a ton of that since his call-up.

Grabovski and his line, meanwhile, provided their (seemingly) nightly offensive contribution.  And that shootout goal gave the Leafs some confidence when they could have walked away with a loss. (Whether it was his off-season regimen, a renewed determination to play hard all over the ice, wanting to be more than just another NHL player who bounces around, whatever, Grabovski is indeed a different player so far this season, at least to me.)

Am I alone in this nagging feeling that I want to see more from Phaneuf?  I mean, maybe it’s totally unfair.  But game after game, I keep expecting a big hit, a goal, a physical presence that turns the tide in a game.  Something.

Maybe he’s doing it and I’m just not watching closely enough.

A year ago or so I posted:  Does anyone miss Alexander Steen?  Based on the responses, it didn’t seem as though Leaf fans much cared that he was gone (a Fletcher move, shortly before Burke arrived).

Interestingly, while not a spectacular performer for the Blues (though a lot of Leafs fans will recall a spectacular goal Steen scored in Edmonton, I think it was, one night in his early Leaf  days under Quinn), he seems to be a solid contributor.  After Thursday night’s game versus the Leafs, he has 28 points and is a plus 5 on the season.  (To provide some context, he earned 47 points and was a plus 6 last season for St. Louis.)

Colaiacovo was not a Wilson kind of player, it seemed, based on comments I remember Wilson making at the time about Carlo’s conditioning. (The Leafs third goal late in the second period may also be why he didn’t fit what Wilson was looking for.  Carlo did, though, look more and more comfortable as the night went on, playing back in his hometown.)

But Steen?  He was an impact player Thursday night, a real factor in the third period when the game was on the line.

It strikes me that he would look good on a Leaf third line right now.  Maybe even second?

Only two Leafs (MacArthur and Grabbo) have more points than Steen (30 and 29 total points) and Grabovski is plus 3.

Quick comment:  I’m sure I’m not alone in liking the fact that penalties seem to be down most nights, at least compared with when we came out of the lockout.  Then, it felt like (and there were) way too many penalties called and the game was all about power plays.  There wasn’t enough five-on-five play, which, for me, is the foundation of the game.

In truth, I’m not amongst those who perhaps believe Phil Kessel is not putting out.  Oh, he has times and games—like most players—where he is not as determined as he is on other nights, but that has been the case for many fine players.  The list of such players, in Maple Leaf terms, would include a Hall-of-Famer like Frank Mahovlich, who did not bring his “A” game every night in his 10+ seasons with the Leafs.   A more recent example is Leaf fan favorite Wendel Clark.  Wendel would go through stretches where he was not as involved and not as impactful as he so obviously was at other times.

No, I sense Kessel is giving what he has.  He is not always great in his own zone nor is he an ‘in the crease’ kind of player.  He is more of a perimeter guy as we like to say these days.  But he can fly, he has that great release and can make plays.  In recent weeks, more often than not the puck, for whatever reason, has not been finding the back of the net.

The good news is that he has been putting up points starting with the Carolina game (he scored those two goals) and has continued to do that since, including his goals Thursday night against the Blues.  (While he didn’t score against the Bruins, he put in an inspired offensive effort.)

All this said, the concern for Leaf fans is simply this: forget what he “cost” the Leafs.  That’s done.  What the team needs is, one way or another, for him to produce not just opportunities for he and his linemates but also goals on a reasonably consistent basis.

Last season we saw a similar lengthy goal-producing “slump” for Kessel, though by the end of the season his final numbers were pretty good.

The problem is, these last few weeks, and right now, is when the team has needed his production.  And we're just maybe starting to see it.  It won’t do a lot of good (again, except for his stats) if he goes on a roll in February and March, if the season is lost by then from a team perspective. So fair or not, in terms of expectations (the guy is only 23), the Leafs need Kessel to be big, right now.

Just like they need Gustavsson to answer the challenge and come up big in goal with a run of superlative games (and it hasn't really happened yet), they need their biggest offensive threat—and Kessel is still that, despite Grabovski jumping past him in terms of points—to deliver when it still matters.         

No comments:

Post a Comment