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Phil Kessel is the NHL’s Player of the Month for October

Millions of people woke up this morning, ate a Kit Kat for breakfast, opened the door to find pumpkin shards and a M-80 casing and realized that yes, October is officially over.

And to celebrate the month that was, the National Hockey League announced that Toronto Maple Leafs RW Phil Kessel has been named October’s Player of the Month.

The decision wasn’t much of a surprise as Kessel finished atop the NHL leaderboard with 10 goals and 18 points in 11 games. Kessel also has five multiple-point games — including two 3-point games and a season-high 4-point game on Oct. 8 against Ottawa — and cemented his name in Leafs lore by scoring five goals in Toronto’s first three games. The only others to do that in the last 66 years? Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark.

The runner-up to Kessel was Dallas G Kari Lehtonen, who won an NHL-best eight games while posting a 1.75 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. He was instrumental in pacing Dallas to an 8-3-0 record — as a result, the Stars now sit atop the Pacific Division, thanks in large part to Lehtonen averaging 32 saves per game.

October’s third star was Edmonton Oilers G Nikolai Khabibulin, who has come out of nowhere (well, Tent City at Maricopa County Jail) to post a 5-0-2 record with a .902 save percentage and a league-low 1.12 GAA. In doing so, Khabibulin increased his career win total to 321, putting him 20th on the all-time list. The Bulin Wall is now just three back of Sean Burke and should he continue winning games at this rate (hey, he’s on pace for a 59-0 record this year) he could jump past Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon — he of the 355 career victorites — for 16th all-time.

Brian Burke admits Boston won the Phil Kessel trade

Brian Burke
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The debate can finally be put to an end over who won the Phil Kessel trade. While the Leafs came away with the dynamic scorer they craved, the Bruins came out of it with three great draft picks in Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, and Jared Knight. The Bruins also came away with a Stanley Cup last year. Apparently that’s a big deal.

Leafs GM Brian Burke took plenty of heat for dishing off two #1 picks and a second rounder for Kessel, but fans were eager to yell that they won the trade on both sides. Burke says all that talk can end now after what he told Michael Traikos of The National Post after the Leafs were spanked by Boston last night.

“Peter Chiarelli has a ring. There’s no argument,” Leafs general manager Brian Burke said of his Bruins counterpart prior to Boston’s 6-2 win against Toronto on Thursday night. “Whenever people question whether the trade worked or not, he holds up his right hand and you can’t say anything.”

Debate over – the Bruins win again.

Of course, Burke goes on to admit he’d do the deal again in a heartbeat because of how good Kessel is. In this case, going for the sure thing instead of chasing draft picks is what he means. Of course, you never expect those picks to be second and ninth overall in back-to-back years either.

Burke’s admission should end the debate, but asking Leafs and Bruins fans to stop sniping each other is like asking cats and dogs to knock it off.

The Phil Kessel show rolls right along into Boston tomorrow night

Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel’s month of October is the kind of thing that will get Toronto fans overly excited about what their future holds. This time around, the excitement makes a world of sense. Kessel continued his hot month against Winnipeg tonight scoring a goal and setting up Joffrey Lupul for a camera-smashing beauty on the way to a  4-3 shootout win in Toronto.

Kessel’s two points against the Jets helped extend his early points lead to three on L.A.’s Anze Kopitar and his seventh goal of the year puts him on top of the league lead one ahead of James Neal. While Kessel has had a history of great Octobers in the past followed up by slumps or injuries, the Leafs are hoping this time around it turns into a monster season and a run into the playoffs.

We know that Kessel is going to cool off at some point, it’s inevitable and shooting 33.3% all year is virtually impossible to do for a guy that shoots that much, but for now Kessel is putting on an electric show in Toronto. With the Leafs facing the Bruins tomorrow night, will the “Thank you Kessel” chants be coming from Bruins fans or Leafs fans? Here’s to hoping Kessel and Tyler Seguin get to one-up one another all game long.

Here’s video of Kessel and Joffrey Lupul scoring back-to-back in 27 seconds to tie the game up in the third.

Video: Phil Kessel has the magic scoring touch

Phil Kessel’s sixth goal of the season helped put the Leafs up 1-0 on Colorado early in the second period beating Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Kessel has been Toronto’s leading man in a goal scoring role so far this year and his sixth of the year gives him the early NHL lead as the top goal scorer.

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Phil Kessel is the NHL’s First Star of the week

phil kessel drafgt
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After posting 5G-3A-8PTS in his first three games, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel was named the NHL’s first star for the opening week of the 2011-12 campaign.

Playing on a line with Joffrey Lupul (2G-3A-5PTS) and Tyler Bozak (0G-3A-3PTS) — a line you can watch tonight as Toronto faces Colorado on Versus — Kessel has been a key figure in getting the Leafs off to their best start since…last year, when they started 4-0!

But then they missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

But hey, first star of the week!

Moving along…the second star went to New York Islanders C John Tavares, who also posted 5G-3A-8PTS, but over a four-game stretch. The highlight of Tavares’ week was his hat trick against the Rangers (which would’ve been a natural hatty if not for a goal by Brandon Prust). Another highlight for Tavares was almost single-handedly putting P.A. Parenteau into a tie for the NHL assist lead. Seriously — Parenteau has six assists, which is more than Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton combined. He should buy Tavares a walk-in humidor or something.

Third star went to Dallas netminder Karti Lehtonen, who posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.48 GAA against the Blackhawks, Coyotes, Blues and Blue Jackets. Great start for a guy that, in the past, has been besieged by injuries, bad teams and a general disinterest in physical fitness (which would explain the injuries, says Dr. Halford).

The Stars are hopeful that, at age 27, Lehtonen is finally ready to make good on the potential that made him the 2nd overall pick at the 2002 NHL Draft. Remember, Lehtonen twice won the Urpo Ylonen trophy (Finnish League goalie of the year award; it’s more prestigious than the name suggests) before he turned 20. Past Urpo recipients include Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff and Tim Thomas, so winning it twice is a big accomplisment.

[Random aside: The top goalscorer in the Finnish league gets the Aarne Honkavaara trophy, and one year it was won by Arto Javanainen. I felt like you needed to know that.]