If there was a time for Phil Kessel to kill his funk, it was against a New York Islanders goaltender who not only had never played in a National Hockey League game but had a grand total of six wins in the American Hockey League.
But Kessel, in the wake of his second consecutive worst weekend ever, couldnít score on Mikko Koskinen on four shots. Kessel hit the post in the second period, but last we checked, that doesnít count.
Leafs fans should keep their fingers crossed, though, that Kessel can draw some confidence from the goal by Nikolai Kulemin that he set up in the third period. Kessel did all the work, using his speed to dictate the play in the Islesí end and shrugging off a check by Travis Hamonic to feed Kulemin.
With his goalless streak at 12 games, Kessel is creeping up on his worst drought since his NHL rookie season, when he had 11 goals for the Boston Bruins in 2006-07. Two years ago, from Jan. 6-Feb. 22, Kessel went 14 games without a goal for the Bruins.
And we know it appears to be water under the bridge, but we found it interesting that Kessel said on the weekend that he and head coach Ron Wilson donít talk. Was it not just a week ago that several Leafs scoffed at a poll that had NHL players saying Wilson was the coach they would least like to play for? If Wilson does not have regular open dialogue with a kid who is supposed to be a cornerstone for the organization, how can it be any better for the grunts?
From the hash marks
The Islanders have become such a joke that it was mildly surprising that general manager Garth Snow, a former goalie, didnít strap on the pads to back up Koskinen when Kevin Poulin was hurt in the pre-game warmup. Never mind what Kessel might actually really think of playing in Toronto ó how do you figure John Tavares feels playing for the Islanders? Waves of empty seats at the decrepit Nassau Coliseum and little hope for the future. Tavares had more people watching when he finished his OHL career with the London Knights two years ago. Give the kid credit for not having his hockey soul sucked out of him, yet ... Fredrik Sjostrom did not get an assist on Jay Rosehillís goal, but if not for Sjostrom, the goal does not happen. Isles defenceman Milan Jurcina cleared the puck around the boards, and when Trevor Gillies went to play it, Sjostrom bothered him enough that the puck slid by and was collected at the point by Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn. Rosehill deflected Schennís shot behind Koskinen to give Toronto a 2-0 lead. If Sjostrom is not in position, Gillies likely clears the puck from the zone ... The goal was Rosehillís second in the NHL and first since Oct. 10, 2009. Because of his time in the minors, his NHL goalless streak was 22 games ... Zenon Konopka is a good example of a player who made some adjustments after junior hockey to get a job in the NHL. The Islanders forward was solid for the Ottawa 67ís a decade ago, recording a total of 151 points in his final two junior seasons. Konopka was a bit of an ornery player for the 67ís, but re-invented himself as a scrapper once he got to the minors and then the NHL. With Tampa last year, Konopka led the league with 265 penalty minutes and has a league-high 181 this season. In 165 NHL games, Konopka has 19 points.
Is there anything to not like about the effort that Darryl Boyce puts in every night? He had three assists and was plus-3, and now has nine points in 19 games and is plus-6. Boyce personifies determination on every shift ... Leafs defencemen collectively make too many mistakes for this team to take a large step forward. Francois Beauchemin chased his tail on the second Islanders goal when Schenn tried to poke the puck out, leaving Matt Moulson alone in front of the net. A bad Dion Phaneuf pinch led to an Isles 3-on-1, and Schenn did not have great positioning when Michael Grabner scored ... Tomas Kaberle showed why the Leafs will miss his heads-up offence on the chance he is traded. Kaberleís outlet pass that resulted in Colby Armstrongís goal is the kind of play the other Leafs defencemen canít make consistently. And having said that, do any of the other Leafs rearguards have the kind of patience that Kaberle demonstrated on his third-period goal? ... Koskinen was the first goalie selected in the 2009 NHL entry draft, when New York chose him 31st overall. The only other goalie picked in the second round that year was Robin Lehner, by Ottawa ... For the first time this season, the Leafs have got a goal from a defenceman in three games in a row.