As a giddy Phil Kessel skated by the Maple Leafs bench high-fiving his teammates after finally scoring his first goal of the season, he looked up and locked eyes with Randy Carlyle.
Upon further review, it’s hard to say who had the bigger grin.
For Kessel, he had just shed a monkey the size of King Kong off his back by ending a 10-game goalless drought thanks to a wicked snapshot with 4:08 remaining in regulation that proved to be the game winner.
For Carlyle, seeing his top sniper finally hit the back of the net was the icing on the cake in a 3-2 Leafs victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, a goal which gave the Leafs coach a triumphant homecoming to Manitoba.
Let’s just say both were quite satisfied with the victory, which ran Toronto’s road record to an impressive 5-1 on the season.
“I had a smile,” Kessel said afterward, understating the obvious as only he can. “She’s been a long time.”
Long time? Try last season.
Of course, Kessel has had plenty of chances through the first 11 games of the season. In fact, he came into Thursday’s game leading the league in shots.
And now that he finally has No. 1 on the season, maybe all this “let’s trade Kessel” talk that has been bubbling among Leafs fans will be put to rest for a while.
Yes, TSN did report on Wednesday that GM Dave Nonis was listening to offers for Kessel. But that’s a far cry from shopping him.
If you can get a great return for him, fine. But remember, this is one of the game’s few pure goal scorers, a guy who put 99 pucks in the net for the Leafs over his first three seasons in Toronto.
If you deal him, keep this in mind: Your No. 1 priority will be to get a sniper to replace him. And there aren’t many of those around.
Just ask Carlyle, who talked about the way Kessel picked the corner to give the Leafs the win.
“Goal scorers are streaky and you hope this is the start of something for him,” Carlyle said. “Very few guys can put the puck where he did. Many can try. Only a few can do it.”
While there wasn’t much love for the Maple Leafs in the MTS Centre, the sight of former Jets defenceman and ex-Manitoba Moose coach Carlyle back in Winnipeg certainly unleashed an outpouring of affection here.
During a stoppage in play midway through the first period, the building’s Public address announcer asked the fans to welcome back Winnipeg’s prodigal son to Manitoba.
They did that. And then some.
What started as polite applause quickly burst into a standing ovation from the 15,005 in attendance, who obviously appreciated Carlyle’s 20 years here as a player and a coach.
Kessel's first of season lifts Leafs past Jets
Toronto Sun | Feb 8