Kessel stymied but rest of the Leafs capitalize
(pictured, Nikolai Kulemin gets his first goal of the season)
Forward lines:: van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel, McClement-Grabovski-Kulemin, Frattin-Kadri-Komarov, Hamilton-Steckel-Orr
Defence pairings: Phaneuf-Kostka, Liles-Gunnarsson, Fraser-Franson
Goaltenders: Reimer (60:00 minutes played, 20 saves, 2 GA), Scrivens (0:00)
Phil Kessel hasn’t been just snake-bitten. He has practically been swallowed by an anaconda.
Consider the inventory from Thursday’s game, a 3-2 come-from-behind Leafs win against the Washington Capitals – the team’s first home win of the year. A hit crossbar and a phenomenal save by Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth in the first period. A glove save by Neuvirth off a two-on-one with James van Riemsdyk. A missed empty net in the dying seconds of the game. A total of six shots on goal and 33 on the season. And a big donut in the “G” column to show for it.
“I don’t know WHAT I did,” said a smiling Kessel in response to a post-game query as to whether he had recently run over a black cat to curse the slow start to his goal output this season. A remarkably upbeat Kessel, now seven games into his slump, preferred to focus on his team’s performance as the Leafs won consecutive games for the first time this season. “It’s tough to not get frustrated, but you try your best,” he said. “We’re winning games, so that’s the most important thing.”
Kessel did register his fourth assist of the year, coming on a first period game-tying goal by van Riemsdyk, who crashed the net on a Leafs power-play to collect a rebound off his linemate’s initial shot. The goal – van Riemsdyk’s fourth of the season – answered Washington’s opening tally of the game by Joel Ward which was scored after a defensive breakdown by Cody Franson and Mark Fraser.
The second period’s only goal came off the stick of sniper Alex Ovechkin, whose right point shot with the man advantage trickled through Toronto goalie James Reimer. For Ovechkin, who loves to feast on the Leafs, it was his 24th goal and 43rd point in twenty-seven career games against Toronto.
Nikolai Kulemin tied the game in the third frame when Mike Kostka’s point shot was stopped but not covered by Neuvirth. Kulemin had a gaping net in which to deposit the rebound for his first goal of the year, ending a personal 13-game drought dating back to February 28.
The equalizer opened the door for Matt Frattin, who combined with Nazem Kadri on a pretty passing play to fire home the game-winning goal. For Frattin it was his second consecutive winner following his overtime heroics on Tuesday night in Buffalo. “It was a nice little tic-tac-toe with me and Naz,” said Frattin. “But I think the play that made it was Leo (Komarov) driving two of the guys to the net. Not too many people notice that play, but that’s the kind of little things that he does that not too many people see.”
Frattin and van Riemsdyk now lead the team with four goals apiece.
Ovechkin was matched mainly against Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf for most of the game, renewing a rivalry that dates back to the 2005 World Junior Tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota. “I’ve known Ovie for a long time, and he’s a guy who competes hard,” said Phaneuf. “He’s such a big strong guy, not only when he’s got the puck, but when he’s going to battle to get the puck, he competes a lot and that’s why he’s one of the top guys in the league and has been for a long time. When you get matched up against guys like that, as an athlete you love to compete and you love the challenge of that. I’m sure he’d say the same thing.”
The Leafs get a well-deserved day off Friday before preparing to host the Boston Bruins the following day.
Kessel hasn’t fared well against his former team since the 2009 trade that brought him to Toronto. But perhaps Groundhog Day will be the day that he stops seeing the same result, over and over and over.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca.
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