Phil Kessel’s Clutch Points

"Guys, I’m pretty good. Deal with it."

If you mention Phil Kessel to a Leafs fan there is so much that you might hear in response. What likely won’t get top billing is that he’s one of nine NHLers to hit 30 goals each of the past three seasons, that he has the 16th most goals in the NHL over that period, and it sure as hell won’t be that mathematical simulations can show that Kessel’s not a streaky goal scorer.

More likely, it’ll be that he piles up his points onc the result is no longer in doubt. Which made me wonder, just how his points broke down last year. So after the jump, I have a graphic.

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The legend is pretty simple: CD 2+: Cut deficit to 2 or more goals, CD 1: Cut  deficit to 1, TIE: Tied the game up, 1GL: Gave Toronto 1 goal lead, 2GL: Gave Toronto a two or more goal lead.

  Goals Assists
 Opponent CD 2+ CD 1 TIE 1GL 2GL CD 2+ CD 1 TIE 1GL 2GL
 v. ANA                 2  
 v. ATL             1      
 v. ATL         1       1  
 v. ATL         1          
 v. BOS     2              
 v. BOS                   1
 v. BOS               2    
 v. BUF 1                  
 v. BUF       1            
 v. BUF       1         1  
 v. BUF                 1  
 v. CAR     2              
 v. CAR               1    
 v. CAR                 1  
 v. CBJ                 1  
 v. COL         1          
 v. DET               1    
 v. EDM         1       1  
 v. FLA         1          
 v. LAK       1            
 v. MIN                 1  
 v. MTL         1          
 v. MTL       1            
 v. MTL     1 1         1 1
 v. MTL   1                
 v. NJD         1          
 v. NJD                 1  
 v. NJD 1                  
 v. NSH           1 1      
 v. NYI     1              
 v. NYI                   1
 v. NYI       1            
 v. NYI               1    
 v. NYR       1 1       1  
 v. OTT         1         1
 v. OTT                   2
 v. OTT       1            
 v. PHI   1                
 v. PIT           1        
 v. PIT               1 1  
 v. PIT     1           1  
 v. SJS     1              
 v. STL         2          
 v. VAN         1          
 v. WSH               1    
 v. WSH                 1  
 TOTALS 2 2 8 8 12 2 2 7 15 6

There are a few things I’ve pulled out of the table. Before going on I’d note that there’s a lot of room to build on this quick study and I might actually do that at some point. It would be good to compare this breakdown to other Leafs as well as across the league. 

"Hey guys, just another important goal"

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"Clutch" Scoring

Phil Kessel may not dig the team out of deep holes but if he is involved in a goal then there’s a good chance that it either helped tie the game or give the Leafs the lead. 16 of his 32 goals came in that situation as well as 22 of his 32 assists. 

Flat Track Bully?

Kessel also did not simply pad his stats by loading up on points against the league’s bottom feeders. Note: I realise how funny that is to type considering I am talking about the Leafs’ opponents. 17 of his 32 goals came against playoff teams as did 19 of his 32 assists.

Divisional Scoring

The Leafs actually did well within their division and a big part of that was due to Kessel’s 22 points. Kessel picked up 12 goals and 10 assists in the games against the Bruins, Sabres, Canadiens, and the 67s. Sure, it’s not quite fair that he got to play games against essentially an OHL lineup but this year the entire league gets the same benefit so it evens out.

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This is a pretty familiar sight for Ottawa’s goalies

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  • Danny Gray

    “The Leafs actually did well within their division and a big part of that was due to Kessel’s 22 points. Kessel picked up 12 goals and 10 assists in the games against the Bruins, Sabres, Canadiens, and the [b]67s[/b]”

  • Danny Gray

    It would be interesting to also be able to see when each goal was scored. People often feel that goals scored later in the game are inherently more valuable than those scored earlier.

  • Pogo

    Statistics … from my point of view Kessel labours under the tag that so much appears to have been given up to get him that we were expecting a franchise player in return – someone who makes others rise above themselves – what I see on the ice is someone who needs other to make him better.

  • @Pogo, and others…

    I don’t think Kessel ‘needs others to make him better’ – his numbers the last two years with very little help speak to the fact he is an elite sniper in the NHL.

    However, I see this opinion a lot, and I think it stems from a misconception about what Phil Kessel is and what he does. Unlike the Leafs two other superstar forwards of my fandom (91-on) he’s not a centre. Unlike Mats or Dougie, he doesn’t have the puck all the time, he’s not driving the play – that’s not generally a scoring wingers job.

    This leads people to kvetch he’s ‘standing around’ (aka ‘getting open’) or that he ‘needs others’ because his job is primarily to CONVERT scoring opportunities, not necessarily to create them (although I’d say he does create a lot of offense by himself). He’s especially not suited to driving possession, to holding the puck for a long time and ‘dominating’ in that way. He’s built to score off the rush and off scramble chances using his speed, awareness, and quick release.

    This adds up to an enormously effective and valuable player, but since he’s not dominating on the forecheck or wheeling around the offensive zone setting guys up like Mats or Dougie there’s a perception he’s not as good as them. He’s just not the same player – he should be compared to the Kovalchuks or Robitailles of the world. It’s like complaining Dion Phaneuf doesn’t have the guile of Alex Mogilny. Well, he doesn’t, but that doesn’t really tell you much about what kind of hockey player Dion Phaneuf is.

    For me, when debating Kessel, it’s always helpful to keep in mind one of Bill James’ maxims: good organizations focus on what players can do, bad organizations fixate on what their best players can’t do. Phil Kessel is no #1 C, no. He’s no Toews or Crosby. But if we swapped Phil Kessel for one of those players…. we’d still need a sniper like Phil Kessel.