Kessel wants more after first game

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

TORONTO - The opening-night win comes first and the goal he scored was a nice bonus. But Phil Kessel wants much more from what he hopes will be the most productive season of his career.

And ultimately, that may be among the biggest positives to come out of Thursday's 3-2 season-opening Maple Leafs win over the Canadiens.

Kessel's first-period goal, a nifty deke on Habs goalie Carey Price, assured the team would never trail and get the season off on a strong note.

"I'm happy for Phil, he lives to score," coach Ron Wilson said.

Kessel, who believes he has a 40-goal season in him if things go his way, had a less glowing reaction, making it clear he has better things in mind.

"I didn't feel like I had any jump," said Kessel, who led all Leafs with five shots on net. "It's one of those nights when you wish you had a little more legs."

As for the goal, set up from centre Tyler Bozak, Kessel showed how quick and dangerous he can be in open ice.

"If he's got a little time and space on a goalie, there's not many times it's not going in," Bozak said.

GAME ON

One of the mandates for Leaf improvement is to have goaltenders steal games and J-S Giguere got the first one out of the way. Two big pad saves on Brian Gionta in the final 10 seconds kept the game from going to OT ... "This is probably one we get tied against in the last minute (last year)," Wilson said. "Because of a couple of great saves, we got the win." ... Giguere made up for some sloppy defensive play in front and behind him which we're betting will be a focus of practice Friday. The Leafs were charged with 16 giveaways, overall many of those in bad spots ... With all the new faces and all the hype surrounding the opener, the Leafs are looking forward to breathing a little. "We don't want to be chasing that first win," Giguere said in reference to last season's 0-7-1 start. "Now we can relax -- not in our work ethic but in how we play." ... While Tim Brent was the Cinderella story of the night with his first goal as a Leaf after being a surprise addition to the team, that wasn't the most value he provided. Wilson had the line of Colby Armstrong, Brent and Freddie Sjostrom matched up against the top Habs line. "I could put (that line) out and know something bad wasn't going to happen," Wilson said ... His goal was a good one too, a nifty deflection off a point shot from captain Dion Phaneuf ... On his first night with the "C", Phaneuf certainly looked like he wanted to add some offence, though it almost backfired in the third period. Anchoring the power-play, he let a shot rip from the point only to see his stick break, allowing the Habs to get an odd-man rush the other way ... One more note on the captain: He missed nearly eight minutes of the third after getting a cut stitched up on his leg.

ROUGH SPOTS

It didn't take long for defenceman Carl Gunnarsson to renew his struggles of the pre-season. The second-year Swede was a hazard in his own end, easily muscled off the puck for Dustin Boyd's first Habs goal ... The Leafs showed patience with the second-year D-man, however, as he still logged almost 18 minutes, much of that alongside Mike Komisarek ... Good news for Gunnarsson was that former Leaf Hal Gill was an even bigger goat earlier in the period. In a move seen often when he was here, the less than mobile defenceman was victim of a bad turnover leading to Kessel's goal ... Phaneuf just missed a good chance at a power-play goal late in the first when Price made a big toe save. If the captain had a chance to sneak a peak, however, he would have seen a wide-open Kessel, who would have had a tap-in for his second.

READY FOR ACTION

You certainly get the impression that Habs rookie P.K. Subban is going to be a central character in the Toronto-Montreal rivalry for years to come. The Toronto native is certainly a dynamic presence on the Habs blueline, but he's a big in-your-face guy. At various points Thursday night, Subban found himself in full chirp with Phaneuf, Colton Orr and Clarke MacArthur ... When the Leafs talk secondary scoring, MacArthur is one of the guys they need to provide it. The off-season acquisition showed some nice touch and a power move when he undressed Jaroslav Spacek then put a backhand behind Price to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead early in the third ... That didn't last long, however, as the Leafs struggled to make do without Phaneuf. Komisarek was caught covering the wrong guy then a shot by Jeff Halpern banged off the post, then off the skate of Leafs defenceman Francois Beauchemin for an own goal.

SOMETHING SPECIAL?

Wilson won't necessarily like the unnecessary nature of the infractions, but the league-worst penalty kill the past two seasons running looked much improved in killing three second-period power plays and looking good doing it. "When you get decent goaltending, it can solve a lot of problems," Wilson said ...The other key, it seemed, was the aggressive approach -- that and the options of three good PK pairings -- Kris Versteeg-Colby Armstrong, Tim Brent-Freddie Sjostrom and Mike Brown-Mike Zigomanis ...The power play that had been so effective in the pre-season got off to a slower start going 0-for-five with few good scoring chances.

OVERTIME

Love him or hate him, Don Cherry draws a crowd -- especially in the ACC press box when Coach's Corner is beamed between periods. As if on cue, Grapes got the media's attention when he ripped into Leafs management for the way they handled rookie Nazem Kadri during the pre-season. "I have never in 50 years seen a kid as a rookie treated this way," Cherry railed. "He can't play on this team? Give me a break." ... Wilson jokingly (we think) on keeping things in perspective: "We're going to ban newspapers from the room (Friday) and turn off the TVs because you guys probably have the parade planned."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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