As @Archizuber once said "All Kessel does is score."
The biggest knock against Kessel – out of the unending litany of knocks (real and imagined) – is that Kessel is not an elite player. Or maybe it’s that he’s not clutch. Well, maybe he is clutch. What we do know for a fact is that Phil Kessel is currently playing on an elevated plane. Did he take another step in his development? Is he benefitting from the percentages? Who knows. All I care is that he once again dragged the Leafs kicking and screaming to another two points.
The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle looked at Kessel’s hot start and revealed that, if nothing else, Phil Kessel is an elite goal scorer. On that, no one with a functioning brain can disagree:
He has scored 104 goals – tied for 10th most – dating back to and including his break-out 36-goal season as a 21-year-old in 2008-09 with the Boston Bruins. Of those ahead of him, all but Sidney Crosby are taller and more physically imposing than Kessel, who at 6-foot, 200 pounds is just under the size of an average NHL forward.
If you look up that list you’ll also note that only Crosby has played in fewer games and some have played a good chunk more.
Last night Kessel was once again the engine for the Maple Leafs’. The first goal of the night came as he backed up Zack Bogosian with his speed before cutting around him to the centre of the ice. As two Thrashers and Pavelec focused on the threat of Kessel’s wrist shot, he spotted Joffrey Lupul to his left and gift-wrapped a goal for him which spectacularly smashed up the goal-cam.
COMING INTO YOUR LIVING ROOM
His role in the second goal was minimal as he only picked up a second assist but let’s just say that his mere presence as he streaked to the back door to receive Joffrey Lupul’s pass forced Tobias Enstrom to panic and deflect the puck into his own net. Why not? He’ll get a disproportionate share of the blame when the Leafs’ are losing so we should milk all of the credit possible out of this.
The third goal, which came just 27 seconds later, featured some excellent puck movement by the Leafs as well as a great fake shot by Dion Phaneuf before he found a wide open Phil Kessel to tie the game up. The comeback was completed despite the Leafs’ doing their best to hand the Thrashers a win during the first two periods. Nothing was resolved in overtime so a shootout was required in which Lupul and rookie Matt Frattin wired shots past Pavelec’s glove hand to steal the extra point. Then, celebration!