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.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

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

phil kessel drafgt
1 Comment

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.]

Phil Kessel’s big night helps Leafs hold on vs. Senators

Phil Kessel; Craig Anderson

Going into the third period, it seemed like Dion Phaneuf’s brutal hit on Stephane Da Costa would tell the story of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ win against the Ottawa Senators. (Check out that pulverizing check at the bottom of this post.)

Instead, the lasting image will be a fantastic night by Phil Kessel. Kessel scored a hat trick and added an assist to bring his season points total to five in just two games. He even looked great killing time when Ottawa emptied its net, wasting a bunch of the Senators’ time and looking dangerous throughout.

There was little indication that the Leafs would need such an explosive game from Kessel through the first two periods, though. At one point, the Maple Leafs were just embarrassing the Senators, going up  5-1 on Colton Orr’s goal at the 2:52 mark of the third.

Yet for the second night in a row, Ottawa made things a lot more interesting after digging themselves a big hole, as Daniel Afredsson scored twice and Jason Spezza earned his first goal of the season. Fittingly, Kessel’s hat trick goal put things away, even as Da Costa earned a measure of revenge by scoring to cut the deficit in half. The Maple Leafs ultimately won their second game of the season 6-5.

Here’s that awe-inspiring (but clean) Phaneuf hit.

Phil Kessel to the Leafs trade is finally complete

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins
1 Comment

It only took twenty-one months, but the deal that sent Phil Kessel from Boston to Toronto is finally complete. It was a different climate when the deal went down—the Bruins were looking to trade the disgruntled sniper, due in part to difficult contract negotiations. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs were coming off of an offseason where they thought they had put together a team that would be able to complete in the postseason. By adding an offensive player of Kessel’s caliber, Brian Burke and Co. thought they’d be able to do damage in the playoffs.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way.

The king’s ransom the Maple Leafs traded was a potpourri of future assets that had the potential to help the Bruins for years to come. When the Leafs plummeted in the standings, the trade almost looked comical by draft day. Not only did Toronto struggle with Kessel on their team, but the freefall in the standings meant the #2 overall pick would be headed to Boston—not Toronto. For their efforts, the Bruins happily picked up the leftovers from the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin debate. Fans in Toronto were left to dream about Tyler Seguin in a Leafs jersey.

With the second pick of the second round, the Bruins picked up talented forward Jared Knight from London. The Bruins’ front office is pleased with his development thus far:

“There are some within the Bruins organization that get just as bright-eyed speaking about the offensive potential of Knight as they do about Seguin and his elite skating, shooting and playmaking package.

All that was left to complete the deal for the Bruins was Toronto’s first round pick in this year’s draft. After another struggle this season, the Maple Leafs first rounder was a lottery pick—this time 9th overall. It was the first time since 1983 that the defending Stanley Cup champions were able to select in the top 10 of the next draft. The Islanders were able to pick up Pat LaFontaine with their pick; it almost seems unfair in retrospect.

As the beginning of the draft unfolded, a 6’5” talented defenseman with a booming shot fell to the eagerly awaiting Bruins. Most scouts pegged Dougie Hamilton as the best North American defenseman in the draft (and second best blueliner overall). He can score from the point with his gigantic shot and can punish opponents with devastating physically play. Fans in Toronto had to watch in horror as the highly touted defenseman slipped to the defending Stanley Cup champs.

He threw out some decent names when asked who he compares himself to:

“When asked to name the NHL players he most models his game after, Hamilton quickly spit out Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Burns and Rob Blake among others – a pair of physically bigger defenseman with some offensive upside.”

The good news for the Maple Leafs is that the trade is finally complete. Even if they struggle next season, the Bruins won’t be selecting for them in the 2012 Draft. To recap: the Bruins were able to pick the highest rated center in the 2010 draft and the highest rated North American defenseman in the 2011 draft—both courtesy of Brian Burke. All that is left is the pain of watching Seguin, Knight, and Hamilton develop into NHL players while critics constantly compare the trio to Kessel. If all three players reach their potential, it could be one of the most lopsided trades of the last 10 years.

It’s important to remember that when Burke made the trade, he thought his team was going to make the playoffs in both 2010 and 2011. He was building for the present with high priced newcomers like Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin. But instead of thriving in Toronto, the team has struggled and temporarily shifted into a slight rebuilding mode. They were able to get back into this year’s first round by trading both Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they were unable to re-acquire their own first rounder from Boston.

There is some good news at the end of all of this for the Maple Leafs though. At least this trade helps fans forget about the Andrew Raycroft for Tuukka Rask trade.

Phil Kessel, Corey Crawford, and Matt Calvert named NHL three stars of the week

Phil Kessel

Toronto’s Phil Kessel gets a lot of grief around the NHL. After all he was the last guy picked at the All-Star Game and he’s hated in Boston. This past week, however, he’s been nothing but clutch in Toronto and his four goals and four assists were good enough to lead the league in points for the week and earned him the NHL’s number one star for the week.

Kessel’s output was good enough to lead the Leafs to a 2-0-2 record last week and helped get the Leafs back into the talk as a potential playoff team in the East. Kessel’s been the man for Toronto all year this year leading the team in goals and trailing only Clarke MacArthur in points.

Chicago’s Corey Crawford is continuing to have a huge rookie season and his 3-0-0 record last week with a 1.95 goals against average and .936 save percentage with one shutout were good enough to get him the second star of the week. Crawford’s efforts this year have been huge with Marty Turco not playing well and now he’s been able to get Chicago back into the mix heavily for the playoffs. If he can keep up the stellar play, he might even be able to earn himself a Calder Trophy on top of it all.

Columbus’ Matt Calvert had a breakout week. The Blue Jackets rookie was the NHL’s top goal scorer last week scoring five goals including a hat trick against Phoenix in a 5-2 win. Calvert’s been a pleasant surprise this year for the Jackets and his production is helping them stay close in the playoff race out West.