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Breathe easy, Maple Leafs fans - Phil Kessel scored

Phil Kessel broke out and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat up on the New York Rangers, proving once again that a two-game losing streak means very little.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

It’s incredible how quickly Leafs Nation hits the panic button. Only in Toronto will a 0-2 start to the season become cause for concern – and cause for throwing a jersey on the ice.

But blow out the New York Rangers 6-3 – with a three-point night from Phil Kessel, no less – and the tone in Leafs Land changes pretty quick.

After the Leafs dropped a hard-fought opener to Montreal 4-3 and fell apart in a 5-2 loss to the guns-blazing Pittsburgh Penguins this week, some were talking like the sky was falling in Toronto. Heck, one panic-stricken fan was so hopeless that he threw his jersey on the ice in Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

That guy probably regrets chucking his sweater now, because Sunday’s team looked nothing like the one in Toronto on Saturday.

The Leafs had an incredible second period in the Rangers’ home opener at Madison Square Garden. First-liners Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk all scored their firsts of the year, as did Nazem Kadri, David Clarkson and just-returned defender Cody Franson. Tyler Bozak had his third of the season.

The Leafs made all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist look like a stick figure, and routinely blew past a flatfooted Rangers defence. Lundqvist got the hook after Clarkson tipped home the sixth goal of the night in the third period, and sat stewing on the bench with his helmet on for the rest of the frame.

So is it time to buy a new Leafs jersey?

Not quite.

If there’s one lesson Toronto’s new analytics department will preach, it’s that three games don’t make a season. The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and a lot of the Leafs’ short-term issues were bound to work themselves out.

Case in point: Phil Kessel, who didn’t score in the Leafs’ first two games, and who recently admitted he didn’t skate a lot in the off-season. People instantly pounced on Kessel for his lack of conditioning, but he silenced those critics Sunday with a goal and two assists.

You can complain about Kessel and his apparent lack of dedication to certain aspects of the game, but at 27 years old, Kessel probably isn’t going to change.

Kessel is a pure goalscorer – a thoroughbred if ever there was one. He’s not a penalty killer, he’s not a leader, he’s not an engaging interview and he doesn’t have the off-ice drive of a Sidney Crosby or a Jonathan Toews.

His name is Phil, from Wisconsin. He likes playing poker, ping-pong and hockey, and he loves hanging out with his best buddy, Tyler Bozak.

Oh, and cookies. He likes cookies.

Kessel’s never going to seize the Maple Leafs and lead them. He’ll have games when every shot goes in, and he’ll have slumps when he’s invisible and infuriating to fans and coaches alike.

Like Kessel, Toronto was one of the streakiest teams in the league last year, and their early-season hot streak evened out painfully at the end of the year when they went into a horrendous tailspin.

Kessel, by the way, had just three goals in the Leafs' last 16 games in 2013-14.

So don't hope for Kessel to suddenly score 50 and take the Leafs to the playoffs, because he won't always be the player he was Sunday.

But the Leafs, collectively, should see Sunday as something to work toward.



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