Maple Leafs 2 at Blackhawks 3: Kessel is Good

Let's get this out of the way: Vesa Toskala played great last night. He had a .912 sv% including 8 stops on 9 shots when down a man to mark his first good game of the season. The one goal on the penalty kill came because Exelby got caught in no-man's land between the shooter and Troy Brouwer. It's too bad Toskala isn't about 3 inches taller or he would have stopped the second goal but overall the Leafs would have been in deep trouble if not for his great performance in the first.

Speaking of the first, did anyone else have a flashback to 1989 when a Blackhawks forward stripped a doddering Leafs defenceman and then snapped a shot past a surprised Leafs goalie? Sadly it was Luke Schenn playing the part of Todd Gill. He only played 12:37 last night and Ron Wilson's musings about whether he will have to bench him in order to get his message across are coming closer to fruition. Good thing Schenn is only 20 or we might have to panic.

As DGB noted, Phil Kessel is indeed awesome. Two clean wrist shots led to two goals and you could see the confidence building in his shot and the panic increasing in the Blackhawks every time he started lining up as they ran to try to disrupt his attempt. While Kessel doesn't seem to need someone to set him up he does need a linemate that gives him the confidence to be able to draw the defenders towards him before dishing the puck. Too often last night he looked for quick one-twos but his linemates were unable to get the puck back to him. Here's his stat line so far this year:

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Phil Kessel 5 4 2 6 2 2 0 0 1 0 28 14.3

So far his shooting percentage is pretty close to what he put up last year during his breakout season. It's still very early but when he's on the ice I can't take my eyes off of him waiting to see him hit full flight. Possibly the most, ok second most, impressive thing about the new guy is how hard he is willing to backcheck. I think I've counted at least 4 2-on-1s and a breakaway that he's disrupted by using his speed on the backcheck. So much for being a lazy floater.

The Leafs unlucky not to have their first goal counted. It's pretty clear that the puck is in Huet's glove that is in the net but in video reviewland common sense isn't the determining factor:

If the Leafs are going to learn anything from this they might take away the lesson that just because you see it in the net doesn't mean that you shouldn't hammer it in to make sure.

Somehow the Leafs were able to come back into the game midway through the second and they really took it to the Blackhawks during the third period but it was too little too late once again. The Leafs had a couple of power play opportunities but the top ranked penalty kill suffocated them with some impressive pressure. Then, at the death, the Leafs were unable to win a face off (par for the night) that would have allowed them to set up 6-on-5.

This was a painful opportunity that the Leafs let pass. They in no way deserved a point from this game but they were easily within reach in the third period and just couldn't find that touch of class to tie the game up. TSM spoke about Burke making changes to the Leafs line-up and the number one priority has to be finding some more scoring. I said on the Stick Work podcast that I expect a lot of guys to be gone at the deadline to clear room for the NCAA kids and Tlusty but based on their struggles I think Burke is going to have to work the phones sooner rather than later. He surely doesn't want to move players when the team is at its nadir but he might have to in order to salvage the year as every point lost moves the team that much closer to ending the year in the draft lottery.



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