November 1, 2011
Kessel shy about award
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - When Phil Kessel saw someone had saluted his NHL player of the month award on the dressing room whiteboard, the embarrassed winger quickly wiped it off with his arm.
Perhaps if it gets posted once more in the winter months, he’ll feel more comfortable about getting the message out, as the streaky Kessel looks to keep what could be a career year on the track.
“The kid’s on a hot streak right now, I wish I could put him in my back pocket and carry him around,” joked centre David Steckel. “But he’d be the first to tell you, it’s the first month of the season.”
The shy Kessel, who becomes the first Leaf in exactly 18 years since Felix Potvin to be the league’s top performer over four weeks, agreed that people will want to see more this year.
“Obviously, you can’t have just one good month in this league,” he said. “You want to remain steady, not have any slump and hopefully I can do that.”
Kessel counted seven goals in Toronto’s first eight games last October, followed shortly by a seven-game drought, a trend that held him to 32 overall. He had 10 in his first 10 games this year, but has two things in his favour. He’s scoring with two and sometimes three different centres and he’s playing better defence.
“Am I plus this year?” he asked of going from minus 20 to plus six thus far. “That’s a tough stat, but you just want to play good, two-way hockey and win games.”
James Neal had nine goals for Pittsburgh, but Kessel’s feat was the best by a forward, beating goaltenders Kari Lehtonen of Dallas and Nikolai Khabibulin of Edmonton, who were second and third stars.
“You can’t argue, he had the best month of his career so far,” coach Ron Wilson said. “He’s been consistent, with lots of shots. He’s doing things I haven’t seen him do before, work hard in our zone, getting pucks out, work hard on the forecheck. I expect the same in November.”