Where's Kessel's A-game?

ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

Phil Kessel had just finished beating himself with an honest self-evaluation of his recent play when he took another shot on the chin.

Three games without a point - his worst stretch as Leaf - doesn’t mean a Kessel benching is imminent, but Leafs coach Ron Wilson would like to see more soon from the team’s designated sniper.

“I agree he’s a little off,” Wilson said following Tuesday’s practice at the Mastercard Centre. “He’s not skating, he looks like he’s a little tired. He’s played a lot of games ... that’s as far as I will go.”

Kessel was willing to take it a little further while trying to shake off one of his least memorable nights with his new team. A mediocre minus-four in his past four games, Kessel was held to just four non-threatening shots on goal in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Sabres.

To add misery to the miserly attack, the winger was on the ice for Derek Roy’s game winner in overtime. Rather than help earn the valuable extra point, Kessel contributed to it going the other way.

“I just haven’t been playing as well as before,” Kessel said bluntly before the team hopped a flight to New York for Wednesday’s game against the Islanders.

“Lately, I just haven’t been the best. I haven’t been terrible, but I know I have a lot better in me. I have to pick it up.

“Obviously you have ups and downs in a season, every player in the league does. There’s not one guy who plays 82 great games. it’s basically impossible.”

Kessel has 13 goals and eight assists in 25 games which has him seventh in team scoring. But if the Leafs are to continue their climb to serious playoff contention, there’s no dispute that the former Bruin will need to play more than a supporting role.

Instead, the team will need Kessel to be the dangerous sniper he was in his initial burst after joining the Leafs lineup in November.

“He has been a definite spark plug for us,” defenceman Mike Komisarek said when asked how important Kessel has been to the Leafs turnaround since a miserable October mercifully ended.

“When other teams are focussing on Phil, it opens up doors for other guys. They all get a little more room and time or space. And usually Phil is facing the other team’s top “d” pairing and he’s still finding ways to create opportunities.”

Speaking of opportunities, the Leafs have a chance over the next five nights to create some holiday cheer.

Wednesday, they have the rare opportunity to put some distance between themselves and a team below them in the standings and Saturday at home they can move closer to the Canadiens and a playoff spot.

“We’ve put ourselves back in the picture, back in the mix, but we’re still on the outside looking in,” said Komisarek, who admits he regularly checks the standings to see how the team is progressing.

“As soon as you start getting comfortable where you are and start thinking ‘we’re back in it’, things can change quickly if you lose three or four games.”


Videos

Photos