It’s another night, and another overtime loss. A hard-fought effort where the Leafs perhaps deserved a better fate. A night where perhaps the final goal of the night shouldn’t have counted. A night where, perhaps we got a true glimpse of what the future may in fact hold for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I know, it’s getting a little redundant to sit here and speak about the positives after a losing game. But hey, it’s not my fault. Tell the Leafs to close one of these games out and we can all talk about something else.
The Leafs now have a five-game point streak going, where they have collected six of a possible 10 points, the latest coming last night on an overtime loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lightning forward Ryan Malone scored a somewhat disputed goal to end the contest.
But it wasn’t all bad news for Toronto.
As in the case with all of the games following a scheduling gap that gave them one full week off, the Leafs have been a better team, and tonight was no different.
Just quickly, it was also good news for those in attendance at Boston Pizza on Yonge Street watching the game. They were hoping so much for a Leafs win that if the Buds lost, they would give out a free pizza to those in in the restaurant. Looks like they gave out around 100 pies.
Not only were the Leafs arguably the better team, but they also had one player in particular who dominated tonight every time he was on the ice (well, almost every time).
He skated hard, flying past (most) opponents. He had great opportunities to score but couldn’t buy a goal. He showed a ton of heart by pulling himself off the mat after this crunch by Matthias Ohlund.
He represents a big chunk of the Maple Leafs future going forward. And if tonight was any indication of what Leafs Nation has to look forward to, he will be welcomed with open arms.
His name is Phil Kessel.
Playing in his first game since being acquired by the Leafs from Boston for three quality draft choices this past September, Kessel looked as fast and dangerous as ever.
He attempted 19 shots, 10 found their way to the net.
He played with a sort of confidence that we haven’t seen from a Leafs player since...well, since big No. 13 left a few seasons ago.
He didn’t score. There’s no denying he wasn’t found anywhere on the scoresheet. But no one with an unbiased opinion could say that the guy didn’t deserve to be.
It was early. It was only one game. But it looks like Phil Kessel will be a hungry sniper for us every night, trying to prove he was worth the contract and draft picks that were moved to acquire him.
Furthermore, despite being only 21 years old, he looks like someone the other players can attach themselves to. Almost looking up to him (which is a figure of speech if you’ve ever stood beside the guy.)
Kessel had the attention of his teammates on the bench, and on the ice, where they were all trying to raise their game to his level. His mere presence made this team just a little better last night.
Lost perhaps in all the Phil Kessel hoopla was the play of Jonas Gustavsson, who once again gave the Leafs a chance to win the hockey game.
Every night since making his regular season debut, Gustavsson has given this team the chance to win, and is doing so all as a rookie in the National Hockey League.
And while I have always been a fan, and never once bashed the guy, I have to ask: How comfortable is that spot on the bench Vesa?
Other than to up his trade value, there is simply no reason to start Toskala, and no reason why we can’t assume Gustavsson is now our No. 1 guy.
Can this last? Is this just a hot stretch for a goalie who has the advantage of shooters not knowing his "book," so to speak?
Well, throw stats and age aside, and I think we see a goalie who will be solid between the pipes for years to come. His positioning on deflections and tips is solid. His reactions are also good (aside from last night’s opening goal.)
And not that it matters, because everyone reacts differently, and I am not accusing Vesa Toskala of not caring, but Gustavsson shows it with every goal.
The guy hates to lose. Hates to give up a single goal.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and more specifically Brian Burke worked very hard in the offseason. Laying groundwork to bring in new guys. He reportedly worked extremely hard to bring in two specifically.
Their names were Phil Kessel and Jonas Gustavsson.
And so far, it’s easy for Leafs Nation to see why.
It’s a rebuild. No one said it would be easy. No one said it would be fast and pain free. But for tonight, we got a chance to see where this team perhaps truly is, what with a legitimate No. 1 goalie and a true top six sniping forward.
There will still be many bumps in the road no doubt, but it’s hard not to at least get a little excited about the latest developments. If nothing else, it looks like we will have fun watching Kessel and Gustavsson for the next few years.