WINNIPEG - The Toronto Maple Leafs were all smiles following their 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday evening and no one was more satisfied than right-winger Phil Kessel. Entering Thursday’s contest, Kessel had not recorded a goal since the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season; one of the longest slumps in Kessel’s professional hockey career. However, with 4:08 remaining in the third period, Kessel once again experienced the unique thrill of scoring a goal in an NHL game. The Maple Leafs sniper ended his dismal slump as he snapped a wrist-shot past Jets’ goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, recording his first goal of the season and lifting the Leafs’ to victory.
The four-time 30-goal scorer had been goalless for the first ten games of the 2013 season and had not lit the lamp since March 31, 2012. Kessel’s game-winning marker came 54 seconds after Toronto had tied the game at 2-2. The Leafs’ superstar had been scoreless while accumulating a league-leading 42 shots prior to Thursday’s game in Winnipeg.
“It’s been a while, right?” joked Kessel regarding his most recent slump. “I love playing here (in Toronto), and I’m happy for the win. I don’t know if we had the best game, but we battled hard. It’s tough when you get chances to not bury it, but fortunately it went in tonight."
Kessel has been subject to extensive criticism during his latest scoring drought and some hockey analysts even suggested that the Maple Leafs should trade their star right-winger. Head Coach Randy Carlyle believes otherwise and is confident that his star-scorer will continue to build upon his successful performance in Winnipeg.
“Goal-scorers have streaks,” commented Carlyle. “We hope that this is the start of a positive streak. Not many people can put the puck where he puts it. It’s as simple as that."
Centre Tyler Bozak echoes his coach’s opinion as he felt it was only a matter of time prior to Kessel breaking free from his dreadful slump. “He has been getting his chances. He has been shooting well. We knew it was only a matter of time,” said Bozak following the Leafs’ dramatic win in Winnipeg.
The game-winning tally was also Kessel’s 100th goal as a member of the Maple Leafs. The 25-year-old has scored 30 goals in each of his first three seasons in Toronto.
When asked if he had made any adjustments to his game, Kessel responded, “It’s the same thing I always do. It’s all about having chances and converting.”
While it may be just his first goal of the season and only one standout performance, it is certainly encouraging to see Phil Kessel transitioning back to his familiar goal-scoring ways.
- Daniele Franceschi -