Phil Kessel
AP Photo

Kessel returns to Toronto for weird, but fun game


Phil Kessel has already played in his first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs since being dealt, but now it will be the fans at the Air Canada Centre’s first chance to address him.

“I figure they’ll be some boos, obviously,” Kessel said with a grin on his face as he address reporters this afternoon. “That’s always how it is, right?”

It’s impossible to account for every fan, but it will be interesting to see what the general reception is. He was the face of the Maple Leafs during an era that brought more pain than success, but Kessel himself scored a superb 181 goals and 394 points in 446 games with Toronto.

In terms of offensive production, it would have been unreasonable to expect much more from him, although some will allow their feelings to be colored by the cost of getting him — three draft picks that became Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton.

At the same time, he occasionally found himself butting heads with the media and had former Toronto coach Ron Wilson questioned his reliability.

Even still, he made it clear that he considers Toronto home and doesn’t have any regrets.

As for tonight it will be “a weird game, but a fun game.”

Pittsburgh will look to keep rolling after winning six of its last seven. Meanwhile, Toronto is 1-6-2 and has been one of the worst teams offensively without Kessel’s services.

You can watch the full Kessel interview here:

Related: Report: Leafs plan … nothing for Kessel’s Toronto return

Report: Leafs plan … nothing for Kessel’s Toronto return

Phil Kessel

The best thing about teams generating tribute videos to returning former players isn’t the music. It’s not about the great highlights, either.

Really, the greatest thing is when those token gestures don’t happen.

Keep in mind this is by no means official, and the Toronto Maple Leafs could easily put together a simple bit if they want to.

Still, it’s awfully interesting from a high school drama standpoint that the Maple Leafs have nothing planned for Phil Kessel‘s return with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, according to Damien Cox’s report in Sportsnet’s latest “Headlines” segment.

A little frosty, right?

Obviously this is a minor detail, yet it’s interesting, especially as the Maple Leafs were the ones who traded Kessel out of town (rather than other rare instances in which a team might feel slighted by a free agent departure).

One would guess that Toronto’s fans will give him a boo-laced tribute, anyway, though.

Kessel scores overtime winner versus Predators

Kessel goal

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ offense still isn’t as productive as expected, but they’ve been good enough lately.

Chris Kunitz netted his first goal of the season and Phil Kessel scored in overtime in a 2-1 victory against the Nashville Predators tonight.

Although Kessel’s marker wasn’t without its controversy as it appeared that Nashville wanted a tripping call against the Penguins:

It’s the Penguins’ fourth victory in five games. Due to their still somewhat anemic offensive showing — they have 13 goals in eight games — three of those wins have been by just one goal. That’s been accomplished by leaning on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, as the Penguins did again on Saturday.

Fleury turned aside 31 of 32 shots in his eighth straight start of the campaign. Former teammate James Neal, who has gotten off to a hot start, was the only one to beat him tonight.

Pittsburgh is still a modest 4-4-0 going into Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals. By contrast, Nashville is a commanding 6-1-1 this season. The Predators will look to shake this loss off Wednesday night versus San Jose.

Kessel isn’t what the Penguins expected

Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby

What you see from an athlete during an interview isn’t always an accurate representation of who that person really is.

Sometimes that squeaky clean corporate-friendly athlete has a dark side. Alternatively, someone others believed to be a “cancer” might be anything but.

As Pittsburgh Penguins players told TSN, Phil Kessel has defied expectations about his attitude – in a good way.

“Just that he tells guys that he’ll beat ‘em at whatever sport they pick,” Chris Kunitz said with a laugh. “I think the confidence is obviously high. He’s a guy that likes to compete and be competitive at anything he does so that’s probably why he’s so good at so many things.”

It’s not just a more-fiery-than-expected demeanor, either.

Kunitz is surprised by Kessel’s “good-hearted manner to every part of his day.”

One could see some of his sense of humor when cameras picked up on his interplay with former teammate and roommate Tyler Bozak. Kessel rolled his eyes at Bozak’s video game playing and generally seemed to have a snarky sense of humor.

The rest of article is good stuff, full of more-expected revelations like “hey, Kessel can pass really well, too.”

Considering all the rumors that floated around in Toronto, the great attitude part might be even more important than the creative playmaking.

Crosby’s slump matches career-worst, but Pens win Kessel’s reunion vs. Leafs

Malkin goal

Phil Kessel was held off the scoresheet in his first game against Toronto since being traded Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby has now tied his career-worst with his five-game point slump.

That wasn’t enough for the Maple Leafs though as they still suffered a 2-1 loss to the Penguins.

Evgeni Malkin played a big role in the Penguins’ victory when he collected the puck in the Maple Leafs’ zone early in the first period and carried it all the way to the other end of the ice before firing it past goalie Jonathan Bernier:

Olli Maatta made it 2-0 less than a minute later, making it look like Bernier might be yanked quickly from this start after lasting just 20:20 minutes in his last game. Tonight’s story proved to be different as Bernier calmed down and went on to make 31 saves.

The Maple Leafs were never able to reverse the damage though. This is the third time in their five-game old season that they have been held to one goal or less. In addition to no longer having Kessel’s services, Toronto was also without his former linemate Tyler Bozak (lower body) tonight.

Despite the star power its roster features, Pittsburgh has been struggling offensively as well. The Penguins haven’t scored more than two goals in a single game, but they have still managed to win their last two contests.

Pittsburgh will look to extend that streak on Tuesday against Florida while Crosby tries to avoid setting a career-low with his slump.