Thank you Boston

Jim Lang
February 02 2014 08:46AM

Saturday night Phil Kessel put on a show that sent the Ottawa Senators home angry and the Leafs Nation home happy.

Kessel scored three goals and added an assist in the Leafs 6-3 win over the Sens. A game in which the Leafs trailed 2-0 in the second period.

With the win the Leafs are now 9-1 and 1 in their past 11 games. During that time Kessel has nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points. Kessel's four point night comes on the heels of the 20 points he racked up in January.

To put that into perspective Sidney Crosby had nine goals and 14 assist for 23 points in the 14 games the Penguins played in November.

Even his harshest critics would conced that Kessel has put up "Crosby-like" numbers during this torrid 11 game stretch he's on.

Kessel now sits with 30 goals after 57 games. This puts him on a pace to score 43 on the year. That would be the highest single season goal total by a Maple Leafs player since Dave Andreychuk and Wendel Clark scored 53 and 46 goals respectively in the 1993/94 season.

Mats Sundin had an incredible career, but he never scored more than 41 goals in a single season with the Leafs.

By now Kessel's game plan in the offensive zone isn't a secret. He uses his speed to gain some space and then unleashes his lethal wrist shot towards the net.

Goalies know what's coming but Kessel gets rid of the puck so quickly that they don't have time to react.

Led by Kessel the Leafs power play is now third in the NHL, scoring at a 22.7% clip. During the dark days of the Ron Wilson regime (the 2009/10 season) the Leafs power play was ranked dead last in the league, scoring at a paltry 14% clip.

The whole team is feeding off of Kessel's hot streak and the result has been a more prolific Leafs offence. In their past 11 games the Leafs have scored four or more goals six times. With the Leafs getting out-shot on a regular basis that kind of offensive out-put takes a large burden off of Jonathan Bernier (and Reimer). Bernier doesn't have to panic if he lets in an early goal because there is that confidence that Kessel and the offence will eventually get their chances an allow them to re-gain the lead.

The challenge for Kessel and the rest of the line-up is sustaining this kind of offensive production for the rest of the season.

At this point in the season there is no logical reason to think that their habit of getting out-shot almost every night is going to change. That means Randy Carlyle will need his offence to keep clicking, especially his power-play, in order to maintain their position in the Eastern Conference.

Logic would also dictate that this kind of offensive production won't continue for the remaining 25 games. There will be nights where Kessel and the Leafs offence dries up and Bernier will be asked to be super-human to give them a chance to win. (Like his 40 save performance in the Leafs 3-2 win over the Lightning last Tuesday.)

But that is something Carlyle and the Leafs will have to deal with when it happens. For now Carlyle is happily riding the Kessel Train for the Leafs three remaining games before the Olympic break.

By the way Boston, thanks for trading Kessel to the Leafs. Since the start of the 2012/13 season Phil Kessel has 113 points in 105 games.

And to think once upon a time some people wanted the Leafs to trade him?

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A graduate of Humber College Jim started his radio career at CKBB in Barrie back in 1987. Between 2001 and 2010 Jim was a reporter and anchor at Rogers Sportsnet. During that time he was a traveling beat reporter for the Leafs and also covered the Raptors, Blue Jays, Argos, the Stanley Cup play-offs, five Super Bowls and the Grey Cup. Most recently Jim was the co-host of the morning show at Sportsnet 590 The Fan. Jim also writes a regular blog and is the author of an E-Book about the daily routines of NHL super-stars called the "Mental Game". Jim can currently be heard weekdays between 6AM to 10AM on 105.9FM The Region (Based in Markham and heard in York Region and the north end of the city). Jim still plays hockey (Mediocre at best)and was once knocked on his butt by Ron Ellis in a charity hockey game. (I totally deserved it)
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#1 Jeremy Ian
February 02 2014, 09:19AM
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Nice write up. The trick will be for Carlyle to brace for his opposing coach's strategy of containing the Leafs' first line. There is no doubt that a line that powerful will have the opposition preparing singlemindedly to shut it down.

This means that the second line has to click, and hopefully the return of Bolland/Holland puts the third line on the right track too. Apologies for mixing metaphors.

Carlyle: think like a chess player. Prepare two-three moves in advance.

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#2 leafer4life
February 02 2014, 09:31AM
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I went from wanting to fire Carlyle to wanting to nominate Carlyle for the Jack Adams if this keeps up in a matter of a few weeks.

I'm amazed at how well Kessel and Phaneuf are playing under Carlyle. And as impressive is how the young players are developing under him - Kadri, Rielly, Gards and even JVR are improving their games.

And Carlyle has made some smart in game/roster changes that he doesn't get credit for and has the leafs win. Like moving Kessel up/down the line up versus Boston and did anyone else notice that since that game, Kessel has been on fire. And even switching Lupul's wing and moving Kulemin to the second. And finally jettisoning Mclemment back to he 4th line which keeps him fresher for PK duties. And now moving Rielly to the second pairing with Gleason.

Now if he can get Clarkson, Reimer and Franson playing well and figure out the 4th line while limiting shots against I see him as a shoe in for Jack Adams

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#3 john Morrison
February 02 2014, 09:38AM
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Awesome piece Jim. Love your insight. And you are right as well.

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#4 Mark
February 02 2014, 04:55PM
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leafer4life wrote:

I went from wanting to fire Carlyle to wanting to nominate Carlyle for the Jack Adams if this keeps up in a matter of a few weeks.

I'm amazed at how well Kessel and Phaneuf are playing under Carlyle. And as impressive is how the young players are developing under him - Kadri, Rielly, Gards and even JVR are improving their games.

And Carlyle has made some smart in game/roster changes that he doesn't get credit for and has the leafs win. Like moving Kessel up/down the line up versus Boston and did anyone else notice that since that game, Kessel has been on fire. And even switching Lupul's wing and moving Kulemin to the second. And finally jettisoning Mclemment back to he 4th line which keeps him fresher for PK duties. And now moving Rielly to the second pairing with Gleason.

Now if he can get Clarkson, Reimer and Franson playing well and figure out the 4th line while limiting shots against I see him as a shoe in for Jack Adams

"And Carlyle has made some smart in game/roster changes that he doesn't get credit for and has the leafs win. Like moving Kessel up/down the line up versus Boston and did anyone else notice that since that game, Kessel has been on fire. And even switching Lupul's wing and moving Kulemin to the second. And finally jettisoning Mclemment back to he 4th line which keeps him fresher for PK duties. And now moving Rielly to the second pairing with Gleason."

I want to focus on that quote specifically. You're giving him credit for doing that now, 50 some odd games into the season, when most of those moves were obvious from Day 1. I don't know if we should be crediting him for finally making those moves more than 50% into the season, or being dumbfounded and shocked that it took an NHL coach with years of experience 40+ games to figure out what was obvious from the beginning.

I'm not giving Carlyle credit for FINALLY realizing the obvious that hey, Lupul and Kadri suck defensively and could use a guy like Kulemin to help out.

Or the fact that guys with actual skill belong on the fourth line, not guys who were being used 4-5 minutes a game and forcing the team to use 3 lines. Or using Holland or Carter for 2-5 minutes a game instead of playing McClement for 15+.

The Leafs are playing well right now, but I don't believe Carlyle is the guy who deserves the credit.

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#5 MaxPower417
February 03 2014, 03:05PM
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Mark wrote:

"And Carlyle has made some smart in game/roster changes that he doesn't get credit for and has the leafs win. Like moving Kessel up/down the line up versus Boston and did anyone else notice that since that game, Kessel has been on fire. And even switching Lupul's wing and moving Kulemin to the second. And finally jettisoning Mclemment back to he 4th line which keeps him fresher for PK duties. And now moving Rielly to the second pairing with Gleason."

I want to focus on that quote specifically. You're giving him credit for doing that now, 50 some odd games into the season, when most of those moves were obvious from Day 1. I don't know if we should be crediting him for finally making those moves more than 50% into the season, or being dumbfounded and shocked that it took an NHL coach with years of experience 40+ games to figure out what was obvious from the beginning.

I'm not giving Carlyle credit for FINALLY realizing the obvious that hey, Lupul and Kadri suck defensively and could use a guy like Kulemin to help out.

Or the fact that guys with actual skill belong on the fourth line, not guys who were being used 4-5 minutes a game and forcing the team to use 3 lines. Or using Holland or Carter for 2-5 minutes a game instead of playing McClement for 15+.

The Leafs are playing well right now, but I don't believe Carlyle is the guy who deserves the credit.

And as if to drive him this point. Today's 4th line in practice was FML - Smithson - Orr.

I think what we saw recently was simply what happened in the playoffs last year. Injuries and unignorable performances forced Carlyle into icing an ideal lineup that he would never otherwise choose.

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#6 TMLPride
February 03 2014, 08:08PM
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Awesome! Phil the thrill is a true stud!

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