Toronto Maple Leafs: Phil Kessel Has Played Well Despite Being Goalless

By Michael Roberts
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Is Phil Kessel ever going to score again?

It’s a question fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs are legitimately asking themselves after the sniper has gone goalless in the first 10 games of the season.

The 5-5 Maple Leafs desperately need Kessel to find his scoring touch if the team is going to make the playoffs this season. Teams obviously need their best offensive player to find the back of the net if they want to find themselves in the post-season. However, despite not scoring, Kessel’s play on the ice hasn’t been all that bad.

When looking at the stat sheet and seeing a big zero underneath the goal category for Kessel, it’s easy to suggest the forward isn’t playing well when in fact, it’s just the opposite.

He leads the league in shots on the net with 42, three higher than second place and league leading scorer Patrick Marleau, but Kessel has made up for his lack of goal scoring in other areas.

Through the first 10 games of the year, he’s easily looked the best he’s ever been defensively in a Maple Leaf uniform. Instead of using his impressive speed to break away from opponents offensively, he’s using it to chase them down with excellent back-checking. Maybe its coach Randy Carlyle’s system, or maybe he’s trying to make up for his lack of offense, regardless there’s no denying Kessel has looked very good on the defensive end.

It’s also not like the sniper hasn’t had his share of scoring opportunities. Each game this season, Kessel is averaging four to five legitimate chances to put the puck in the back of the net, but can’t seal the deal for whatever reason. The goalie will come across for a beautiful save, or Kessel will hit a post (he hits about three every game, which is scary considering he already leads the league in shots) or something else unlucky will occur to rob him of a goal.

Perhaps it’s the fact he’s currently sitting on 99 career goals with Toronto. In sports, its common for significant milestones to suddenly effect a player’s performance as he struggles to reach the them.

Another factor could be the loss of Joffrey Lupul as he found instant chemistry with Kessel  the moment he arrived in Toronto. With Lupul being out of the line-up, there’s no doubt Kessel’s performance would take a hit considering defenses can solely focus on Kessel. However, it shouldn’t take a hit so large that the player still can’t score considering he has played several games and scored just fine in without having Lupul on his line before.

The bright side is Kessel is doing everything well but scoring. He leads the team in assists with six on the season, and is even on the year in the plus/minus category.

The common theme around Toronto is that all Kessel needs is one goal to get going, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he got it and then scored hat-tricks in back-to-back games. That is just the type of player he is: one of the league’s most streaky scorers armed with one the world’s best wrist shots.

Despite the lack of scoring, Kessel has played well to begin the year, and it’s just a matter of time before his luck turns around.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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