Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another good road effort sets the table for Kessel's debut.

Another road game, another point.  A win would have been better but for the Leafs a point is a huge success right now.  Wednesday nights 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars was the third game of a five game road trip.  The leafs started the trip without a win in their first eight games.  They didn't have a clear number one goalie, they couldn't score, their defense looked lost, and it appeared that it wasn't going to get better.

Three games into the road trip all that changed.  While they did start the trip with a  3-1 loss in Vancouver many agree they could easily have come away with a win had it not been for Roberto Luongo.  Monday's game in Anaheim gave them their first win, a 6-3 gem in which they scored 5 power play goals and killed 10 penalties.  It also showcased Jonas Gustavsson as a possible, legitimate NUMBER ONE goalie.  Last night in Dallas they lost in overtime, 4-3.  Although they did lose, they did come away with a point, a sure number one goalie, and a wealth of confidence.

No doubt this recent success has helped a lot of Leafs sleep at night.  Brian Burke and Ron Wilson should be feeling much better these days.  How long could Burke deflect attention from his veteran coach.  Sooner or later if the team played with the lethargy and indifference they had shown, a change would have to had been made.  New Leafs Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin seem to have found their game once again, and last night even Jason Blake's offensive touch resurfaced.  Leaf Nation is smiling again.

Perhaps one of the most relieved Leafs is a player who hasn't even appeared in a single game this year. This past September Brian Burke made a huge splash when he traded for Boston hold-out Phil Kessel.  The details and merits of the deal have been discussed and debated ever since.  Suffice it to say, many Leaf fans have wondered if Burke gave up too much.  Good trade or not, the pressure will be on for Kessel to live up to some pretty high expectations.  At least now, he'll be playing his first game as a Leaf,  for a team with a win, a goalie and some help up front.

At twenty-one years old, Phil Kessel could easily be stepping into the line-up as the teams best player.  His skating has been compared to fellow U.S. born star Mike Modano, and his scoring ability has been compared to another U.S. product, Brett Hull.  As a junior in 2005 he lead the U.S. under 18 team to   gold.  He was the tournaments scoring leader and most valuable player.   He was then being compared to Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

Kessel's no junior anymore.  He's 21 and already has two full NHL seasons under his belt.  Last year he scored 36 regular season goals ... 4 more than Mats Sundin did in last season as a Leaf.  He added 11 goals in the playoffs .. sorry we can't compare this stat to any Leafs for obvious reasons.  In  06-07 he won the Bill Masterton Trophy after battling cancer.  Phil Kessel represents a new era for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  For the first time since the lockout we have a legitimate goal scoring winger.  A truly skilled player with speed and touch around the net.  Did I mention he's only twenty-one.  We have this guy at the beginning of his career.  Usually when we land a player of this ilk, it's at the end of his career.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs return home November 3rd. against Tampa Bay, Kessel should be in the line-up.  It's my guess these past 3 games have caused him to breathe a sigh of relief.  The team is playing well for the most part.  Kaberle is back, veterans Hagman, Blake, and Stempniak are chipping in with points,  and the Monster is making the big saves.  Kessel may be stepping in as the best player, but at least he won't be the only player.

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