With the Maple Leafs’ undercard stars providing most of the scoring through the team’s first three games, the pressure was on Toronto’s top unit of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg.
Clarke MacArthur and Tim Brent have leapt into the limelight with their early goal-scoring prowess and the second line of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and MacArthur has taken top-line scoring duty away from Kessel’s trio.
Thankfully for Leafs faithful, not for long.
The Bozak-Kessel-Versteeg line looked great in the pre-season and they finally picked it back up in Toronto’s 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers on Friday night.
Combined, they had put up just six points in their first three games, but they returned to form against the Rangers after seeming to take the night off in their previous game.
Kessel looked good in the first two contests of the year, scoring three points, but disappeared in the Leafs 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
The 23-year-old managed zero points and zero shots against the Penguins, resulting in him being benched and replaced by fourth-line grinder Mike Brown.
Head coach Ron Wilson used the benching as a tactic to jumpstart the sniper.
“Sitting out a few shifts is a lot louder than my voice,” Wilson told reporters. “The bench screams.”
Kessel bounced back against New York.
Entering Friday night’s tilt, he had just one goal in his career against the Rangers, but he finally broke out against the Blueshirts. He scored two goals, including the overtime winner and added an assist to help the Leafs to their best start since the glory days in 1993.
Not to be outdone, Bozak and Versteeg also put up solid numbers, with Bozak proving he’s a legitimate first-line centre in the NHL in setting up Kessel with a tidy goalmouth pass to give Toronto its third goal of the game.
Versteeg took the role of playmaker in this game, setting up Kessel with a few nice passes, getting the Leafs off to a solid start in the first period.
While winning games is the goal, the Leafs can’t expect the likes of Brent and MacArthur to keep up these numbers and a resurgent game from the top-scoring unit affirms that the Leafs scoring depth is for real.
Kessel known for streaky play
Despite Kessel’s strong game at Madison Square Garden, let’s not forget that he is prone to some subpar scoring streaks down the stretch.
The Leafs’ top scorer in 2009-10, Kessel notched 30 goals in just 70 games but has a bad habit of falling into lengthy goal-scoring slumps.
He started hot last season, putting up five goals in his first seven games but had three separate periods of six games or more without scoring a goal.
Sure, Kessel’s play has shown no sign of decline. In bouncing back after his first subpar game of the season, maybe these scoring droughts are a thing of the past.