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?