WINNIPEG — It took 10 games but on his 46th shot of the season, Phil Kessel finally scored a goal in 2013.
Given the way he has handled, you have to think things will only get better for the Leafs forward.
It all starts with the timing of the goal. The Leafs had found themselves down 2-1 early
in the third period when Andrew Ladd deflected a Grant Clitsome shot past Leafs netminder and Manitoba native James Reimer.
With just over five minutes to go in regulation time, Matt Frattin scored another well-timed goal, deflecting a Cody Franson shot off his shin and past Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec. Just under one minute later, Kessel had his moment, taking a feed from Tyler Bozak and scoring over the shoulder of Pavelec to give the Leafs their first lead of the game.
“It’s always good to score a goal” Kessel said following the game. “It was a big win for us. I don’t know if we had the best game (Thursday) but we battled hard and it’s an important win so I’m happy I contributed.”
Contribute is exactly what Kessel has done this season regardless of his goal count. He picked up his seventh point of the season with that game-winner, moving him into a tie for third in club scoring.
On the other side of the puck, he has only had three games where he has registered a single giveaway. He’s been buying into the system that head coach Randy Carlyle has put in place.
“You just hope he can use this as a building block” Carlyle said about Kessel’s goal. “Goal scorers have streaks and we hope that this is the start of a streak. Not many people can put the puck where he put it. It’s as simple as that.”
Tyler Bozak had one of his best games of the season and turned the game around for Toronto. The Leafs had given up the opening goal of the game while on the power play. Toronto responded with a shorthanded goal of their own just around three minutes later when Bozak stripped Jets defenceman Paul Postma of the puck and took it for a breakaway tying things up at one.
“I knew I needed to get one back” Bozak said of the situation. “We were out there for the shorthanded one we gave away so it was nice to get that one back.”
Reimer got his first win against the Jets after losing in his only start against Winnipeg last year. He got knocked around a few times but showed very little weakness in his game.
Things are happening at the right time for the Leafs. They ranked 27th in the league on the power play and 27th in the league on the penalty kill heading into Thursday’s contest but they have managed to get the job done at the right time. Kessel scoring the game-winner to bust out of his goal drought is a nice example of that.
Frattin scoring the goal to tie it up — his 6th of the season — provided more evidence of a clutch factor this team appears to have which it didn’t before. Despite the win, Carlyle knows there is still a lot to improve on.
“I wouldn’t say it would be one we’re going to frame and I don’t think we played really well in the first two periods” said the Leafs coach. “We did a lot of things that showed a lot of rust in our game and we didn’t play the way I think we need to do to win hockey games.”
Time will tell if the Leafs can improve on their woes despite their good fortune. But right now the Leafs are getting results in ways which didn’t seem possible in years past.