Kessel wants wins before points
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller makes a stop on Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., April 3, 2012. (DOUG BENZ/Reuters)
BUFFALO - Phil Kessel has the most points by any Maple Leaf in 13 years.
“Doesn’t matter,” the frustrated winger said after the Leafs lost 6-5 against the Buffalo Sabres in overtime at the First Niagara Center.
“Look where we’re finishing. If you don’t get it done in the win column, it doesn’t matter. It has been a tough go, I’ll tell you that much. We’re not where we want to be and it’s disappointing.”
Kessel’s three assists in the first period tied a Leafs team record, held by numerous players.
And Kessel’s 81 points in 80 games this season is the highest total by a Toronto player since Mats Sundin had 83 in 1998-99.
For those who like to think of Kessel as a one-dimensional player, there’s more to him than that. His 44 assists are a testament to that. And we’ve said it before, but trading him in the off-season would be a foolish move by general manager Brian Burke.
“He can create space out of nothing,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said.
“Those are the types of plays you become accustomed to when you see him do it every day.”
Kessel has 200 points in 232 games since he was acquired from the Boston Bruins.
While we’re at it, Burke simply can’t trade rookie Jake Gardiner this summer, even if it breaks a potential deal for Rick Nash. Gardiner has poise that no young Leafs defenceman has shown in years. He has cornerstone potential.
The goal that Gardiner scored in the third period, where he held off defenceman Alexander Sulzer for what seemed like forever until he beat goalie Ryan Miller, is one that most veterans can only dream of.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff summed up the game rather well: “It’s not the way you draw them up, but that’s a hell of a way to win it.” ... If teams really do rally around big hits, something that’s difficult to prove, the Sabres had no clue in the first period. Marcus Foligno crushed Carl Gunnarsson with a clean hit behind the Leafs net, forcing the defenceman from the game with an upper-body injury. Foligno then crushed Tyler Bozak, and even though he tattooed Matt Frattin in an ensuing fight, the Sabres didn’t suddenly start playing desperate hockey ... Had Miller not stoned Frattin on a bang-bang play, one of several large saves he made, the game would have been out of hand early ... Sulzer and Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf traded lame checking attempts in the third period and goals were scored on both plays. Sulzer couldn’t have been softer on Clarke MacArthur, who tapped in a pass from Joey Crabb, and Phaneuf essentially stood and watched as Thomas Vanek screened Ben Scrivens on a Derek Roy blast from the point.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Tim Connolly, who doesn’t play a lot of centre any more, was 57th in faceoff-winning percentage before Tuesday’s game among those who taken at least 600 draws. He also led Leafs forwards with 76 blocked shots, with the majority of those coming on a penalty kill that was mired in 29th place. In a season that has two games remaining, there has been no evidence of any justification for the $9.5-million US contract (for two years) that he signed last summer ... Former Leafs first-rounder Brad Boyes, who has just six goals in 64 games, was a healthy scratch for the Sabres ... When the Leafs had a 13-9 shots advantage after one period, it marked the first time in 15 games they had out-shot an opponent in the opening 20 minutes ... Carter Ashton has no points in 14 games and played a total of two minutes 57 seconds against the Sabres. He has averaged less than 11 minutes a game with the Leafs, and it’s hard to argue that this stint has served him better than what he would have picked up in lots of minutes with the Marlies ... Where was the whistle on the Sabres? tying goal in the third period?