With Phil Kessel’s Toronto Maple Leafs debut Tuesday night, it was hoped the team would finally turn the corner and put together some wins.
While the end result wasn’t the desired one, Kessel’s energy, speed, skill and offensive firepower showed promising signs for the future.
He was certainly welcomed by his new hometown fans, who gave the winger, traded over from Boston in the pre-season, a chorus of cheers the first time he touched the puck.
Where Kessel, who had to wait six weeks for his debut due to a shoulder injury, was most impressive, was in his ability to bring the puck across the blueline and into the offensive zone, where he then set up a number of quality scoring chances.
Kessel was welcomed back to the NHL very early in the game. Just over 13 minutes in, as he went up ice from his own zone, he was stood up at the blueline by Mattias Ohlund and crushed with a hard hit.
After getting up quickly, he looked woozy and went straight to the dressing room. Moments later though, Kessel returned to the bench and stayed in the game.
He emerged just in time for the Leafs first power play of the night — where he’ll earn much of his keep — and quarterbacked it from the left wing boards.
The man advantage ended with Kessel ripping a shot on goalie Antero Niittymaki, who gloved it out of the air.
Kessel finished the first period with two shots and 6:29 in ice time.
The 22-year-old continued the second period where he left off, leading the Leafs power play effort, where he was robbed again by Niittymaki. He then took a hooking penalty, ending the team’s man advantage.
Kessel continued to fire shots on the goaltender, finishing the second period with five shots, but failed to convert on any of his chances. He also upped his ice time to 13:46.
His explosive speed was on display late in the frame, when he streaked down the right wing boards and had a near breakaway, ending in a blast high and wide.
Although Kessel couldn’t be blamed directly for Tampa’s game-opening goal, he was on the ice for it and dropped to minus-one, an unfamiliar position given he finished last season at plus-23.
After the Leafs tied the game up early in the third period, Kessel led the charge for the go-ahead goal, highlighted by a two-minute power play effort that took place entirely in the Lightning zone. The No. 1 unit had three shots.