Kessel leads Maple Leafs by Jets
Phil Kessel is playing exactly the way the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted when they acquired him from Boston in 2009.
The former University of Minnesota star had a goal and two assists, extending his NHL lead in goals and points, to help the Maple Leafs rally for a 4-3 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.
He had little time to enjoy it before heading for Boston for a game Thursday night against the Bruins. A former first-round draft pick by Boston, Kessel knows he has struggled back in Boston since the trade.
''It gets old when you guys ask all the time,'' Kessel said. ''You know, it's a couple years ago. I don't get jitters any more. Going back that first year I was a little nervous.
''They're a great team and we're going to have to battle hard to win tomorrow.''
Kessel tops the NHL with seven goals and 12 points in five games, helping the Leafs earn nine of a possible 10 points in the standings.
A streaky player throughout his career, the Leafs are waiting to see if this is another streak or the beginning of a career season.
''Only time will tell if he finds a way to be more consistent,'' coach Ron Wilson said. ''But I don't see any holes in his game right now. He's backchecking, forechecking, making good decisions with the puck and staying on top of things. He wants the puck all the time, he's demanding it and he's getting it. That's the big thing.''
About the only thing Kessel couldn't do Wednesday was score in the shootout, but teammates Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin made sure it didn't matter by beating Ondrej Pavelec in the tiebreaker. Leafs goalie James Reimer stopped both Winnipeg attempts.
Lupul added two goals in regulation for Toronto (4-0-1) while Mark Scheifele, with his first NHL goal, Tobias Enstrom and Alexander Burmistrov replied for Winnipeg (1-3-1).
It began as a promising night for Winnipeg in its first visit to a Canadian city. A number of fans turned up wearing Jets sweaters and the Leafs rolled out the welcome mat with a scoreboard tribute during a stoppage in play early in the first period.
Shortly after, Enstrom opened the scoring with Winnipeg's first power-play goal of the season. He fired a shot through all kinds of traffic that eluded James Reimer at 9:49.
Lupul tied it up less than 2 minutes later with a one-timer that shattered the lens of the in-goal camera. Kessel made a nice play to beat two defenders before finding Lupul.
''We didn't play well for two periods,'' Lupul said. ''We came back in the effort in the third period. That's not the way you want to win every night, but that was the way we had to get it done tonight.''
Winnipeg pulled ahead 3-1 in the middle period. Burmistrov completed a give-and-go with former Leaf Nik Antropov at 2:27 and Scheifele scored on a power play just over 5 minutes later.
Scheifele, from nearby Kitchener, pumped his fists as friends and family in the arena cheered loudly from the stands.
''It was definitely special to get it here in front of a bunch of people that came to the game,'' Scheifele said. ''But it would've been nicer to get the win.''
NOTES: Jets owners Mark Chipman and David Thomson attended the game. ... Leafs forward Colby Armstrong sustained a lower-body injury on the first shift and didn't return. ... Winnipeg scratched Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones and Tim Stapleton. ... Cody Franson, Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill sat out for Toronto. ... The announced attendance was 19,514.