Phil Kessel made his long-awaited and highly anticipated debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Maple Leafs have been competing better in recent games, looking like a much better team and showing some defensive aptitude with Jonas Gustavsson starting to emerge as the solid goaltender Brian Burke was hoping for.
Anyone who’s ever played hockey, or watched it for an extended period of time knows that a team will play completely different depending on the level of confidence they have in their goalie. There’s no worse feeling than that of knowing that any mistake you make has a great chance of ending up in the back of your net, and with the “Monster” bailing out his players from time to time you can see a big difference in the team defense with him in the crease.
That said, I would like to get back to Kessel for a minute here. For a guy who hasn’t played in 6 months and is recovering from shoulder surgery, he made an impact on the game playing 23:50 in the game with ten shots. (Wayne Primeau has 8 shot’s in 9 games, granted as a checking forward)
The problem for Kessel was predictable though. In one of our usual hockey chats yesterday, some friends and I figured with all the build-up for Kessel’s debut he would be pressured to try to make a difference right away, and therefore take an unnecessary risk, leaving himself open for a big hit. Guess what happened?
For those who missed it, here’s Mattias Ohlund welcoming Kessel back with open arms…
For the record, that was a classic, clean open-ice hit and I’m all for that. The problem I’m having is the lack of any response from Brian Burke’s “truculent” Leaf team. Where is all this “team toughness” Burke was selling all summer? What exactly is Colton Orr doing on the team anyway? Credit to Matt Stajan for the immediate response but this was the type of situation where a message needed to be sent. So what was stopping Orr from doing it? The Instigator Rule? Hmmmm…Who would you rather lose, Colton Orr to suspension or Phil Kessel to concussion?
To further the point, anyone who saw the overtime goal would’ve seen Ryan Malone slash the puck through Jonas Gustavsson as he was interfering with him in the process, another sign that the Lightning weren’t at all worried about the Leafs “team toughness”.
Let’s make one thing clear, Phil Kessel is the best chance the Leafs have of not giving up a 1st overall pick to Boston next season, with Gustavsson being the 2nd best chance, and the only true top 6 forward on that team. Is this not an investment worth protecting?