Phil Kessel was named the second star of the week after leading the league with five goals over the past seven days.
Kessel’s performance over the past week rightfully deserved recognition as he was largely responsible for the Toronto Maple Leafs picking up two major victories against elite teams.
He began the week by playing his best game of the season when the Maple Leafs needed him most. Toronto had lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and were hosting the red-hot Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 22, who entered the contest on a seven-game win-streak. For the Maple Leafs to have any chance at ending Anaheim’s streak they needed their newly-signed $80 million winger to step-up.
Kessel didn’t disappoint as after his team fell down 2-0 in the second period, the 26-year-old exploded for a hat-trick in the second half of the game. Set up twice by James van Riemsdyk for a pair of easy tap-in goals, Kessel completed the three-goal performance by rifling the puck to the top corner on a two-on-one break. Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller left the tiniest bit of space in the top-right corner, and Kessel snapped home a shot only a handful of players in the league are capable of firing.
Kessel and van Riemsdyk have developed an incredible chemistry since being paired together a year ago. The duo carried their scoring momentum into what could have been the biggest game of the season so far when Toronto hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 26. The team had lost their chance to prove they were a legitimate playoff team when they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks the week before, but Toronto had a second chance at proving themselves against elite competition with the Penguins in town. However, they’d have to do it without top-six forwards Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul, as the key members of the offense were out due to injury.
Kessel stepped up again despite his team being shorthanded as he was named the second star of the game in a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh. He recorded a goal and set up Nazem Kadri for the game-winner, outplaying Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the contest. He was once again helped out by van Riemsdyk who picked up two assists in the contest, being a part of Kessel and Kadri’s goals.
The chemistry between Kessel and van Riemsdyk has been a major reason for Toronto’s 8-4 record. Through the first 12 games of the season, Kessel has recorded 14 points. Despite missing two games due to back spasms, van Riemsdyk has been able to produce 11 points in 10 games. The American wingers sit at the top of the team’s scoring, and as great as Kessel’s start has been,van Riemsdyk has been just as impressive. Therefore, it can’t be ignored as a major reason for Kessel being named the NHL’s second star of the week is due to the play of van Riemsdyk.
With how good Kessel has played and with the way he’s been able to elevate van Riemsdyk’s game, it’s safe to say the Maple Leafs are happy with the early returns from their $80 million investment.