Phil Kessel may not have the physique of an ironman, but looks can sometimes be deceiving.
The Vegas forward is set to tie retired defenseman Keith Yandle‘s NHL record of 989 consecutive games played when the Golden Knights host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’ve always been the guy that would rather play than sit out,” the 35-year-old Kessel told NHL.com. “I try to play no matter what.
“I’m a hockey player, you know, that’s basically what I am. Just a hockey player, you know? They come in all shapes and sizes.”
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, it would seem Kessel is more suited for a hot-dog eating contest as opposed to the rigors of the NHL.
But he hasn’t missed a game since Oct. 31, 2009.
“The knock on Phil is that he doesn’t work out, blah, blah, blah,” former Arizona teammate Shayne Gostisbehere said. “But when he does go in the gym, I swear to God, he has the strongest legs of anyone I’ve ever seen.
“I mean, those pictures of the hot dogs, that aura around him, it’s what the media and everyone does. They create that bubble around him. But every player that’s ever played with him knows the real Phil and that he does work hard.”
Kessel was asked about all the ailments he has played through.
“There were plenty of them,” he said. “But I always just said, ‘Screw it. I’ll go out there and play because I like to play.’ I’d rather be playing than sitting in the stands.”
Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said there’s some luck involved in a streak of that length.
“And sometimes you’re fortunate with how you don’t put yourself in harm’s way when you know some guys get hurt being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Cassidy said. “They turn and bump into somebody. Phil’s been pretty good at avoiding those.
“At the same time, what he’s on the cusp of doing, full credit to him.”
The Golden Knights are coming off a 3-2 loss to visiting Colorado on Saturday.
“They’re a talented hockey club, that’s why they just won the Stanley Cup,” Thompson said. “It’s slow, rocky right now. This loss stings, but we’re going to go back and build off it, it’s a long season.”
The Maple Leafs opened a five-game road trip with 4-1 victory Saturday at Winnipeg as John Tavares tallied twice on the power play.
“(Tavares) looks really good,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He got two very important goals for us (Saturday). But more importantly than that, I think he’s just been really good in each game. You know 5-on-5 he’s been really good. His line, you know whether it’s been (Denis) Malgin there or (Nicholas) Robertson now, that line’s been pretty consistent.”
Tavares said it’s about being comfortable.
“I’m just trying to be myself, I think,” Tavares said. “Be productive and consistently continue to evolve my game over my career. And obviously, finding some pretty good players, and we’ve got a good team. Continuing to read off of them, using my skill set to continue trying to make them better and then make plays and contribute when those opportunities come.”