Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson better hope that Phil Kessel snaps out of his funk when the regular season begins on Thursday.
The Leafs’ resident sniper has one goal on 17 shots in five pre-season games and at times has looked less than excited about playing pre-season hockey. Kessel had a breakaway in the second period of Saturday’s final pre-season tilt, but Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin didn’t have to move much to stop Kessel’s deke.
“I would have liked to have seen Phil score a few more goals, just for his own confidence,” said Wilson, following Toronto’s 4-2 loss to the Wings on Saturday night. “He had a couple of golden opportunities, he (just) didn’t score. Phil’s going to have to have a good week of practice and bear down and score in practice, then he’ll feel good about his game against Montreal (in the regular-season opener on Thursday).”
Kessel has, however, in the five games during the pre-season shown that his play-making skills are vastly underrated. Though he just has one assist, he has made some impressive passes, including a nice-breakout pass to Matt Frattin in the second on Saturday.
And though Kessel is considered a pure scorer, he wasn’t always known just as a sniper. In his only season with the University of Minnesota (2005-06), he had 33 assists in 39 games (and 18 goals).
THE KID IS STILL ALl RIGHT
Is the golden sheen rubbed off rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner just a little bit? You can’t argue with the young blueliner’s offensive upside and his skating (he has a goal and four assists in six pre-season games) but he did look a little tired and shaky at times on Saturday night, including in the first when he let Justin Abdelkader in alone for Detroit’s first goal of the game. Still, despite what many press box wags described as a somewhat poor outing for the young D-man, he did play over 22 minutes, the third most of any player on the Leafs.
The Brothers Lashoff got a chance to face each other Saturday night. The Wings dressed rookie defenceman Brian Lashoff but the Leafs originally were not going to dress his older brother Matt, but Carl Gunnarsson was a late scratch and the Leafs’ Lashoff dressed. It marked the first time they’ve played against each other in the NHL, though they faced each other in the AHL twice last season.
“We were pretty docile out there,” said Matt, when asked if he talked to his brother during the game. “We’re both obviously fighting for ice time and for jobs, so it’s a pretty serious time, but we gave each other a nod in the warmup, and it was all work from that time out.”
Matt Lashoff has had a pretty good pre-season and could hang on for a spot on the Leafs roster, depending on how many defenceman they carry.
“I think I had a good camp,” said Matt, who is a plus one in three games. “Obviously I didn’t get as many games as I would have liked. But every shift is an audition, every game is an audition.”
The Wings were 3-for-6 on the power play. Obviously, the penalty kill is going to be a priority at practice for Wilson this week ... Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was a guest of Leafs’ GM Brian Burke on Saturday. According to sources, Burke and Anthopoulos had a spirited argument over whose fans are duller ... Toronto’s Mike Brown and Detroit’s Garnet Exelby fought in the first period and, shockingly, the ACC crowd did not begin a “We want fighting banned” chant ... The new Leafs game hostess beseeched fans during the first period to “Make some noise if you love the Marlies”. Wasn’t much of a reaction, other than some guy in section 14D belching ... Fabian Brunnstrom must have said some disparaging remarks about the Leafs’ chicken, Carlton the Dog, or whatever it’s called, because the Wings forward took a beating all night, first getting nailed by Keith Aulie and Jay Rosehill in the first and then Dion Phaneuf in the second.