It took 46 shots and most of 11 games this season. Heck, it had been more than 10 months since Phil Kessel had scored a goal in an NHL game.
But Toronto’s long-languishing sniper finally reminded the hockey world why he has been considered among the game’s elite snipers for most of the past few years. His late-third-period top-circle wrist shot from the right wing beat Ondrej Pavelec high to the glove side. And with that timely marker the Maple Leafs beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 to turn an otherwise unimpressive effort into their sixth win against five losses.
Trailing 2-1 until about five minutes remained in the third period, the Leafs scored two goals 54 seconds apart to secure their fifth road win in six tries. Matt Frattin deflected a Cody Franson point shot off his shin pad past Pavelec to tie it 2-2 with 5:02 remaining before Kessel popped his power-play ice breaker.
For Kessel, there was palpable relief. Typically a fast starter — 11 games into last season he had 10 goals — Toronto’s No. 81 had seen a lot of what the pucks he’s touched clang off iron. A goal post here, a crossbar there; finally he found a way to ignite the goal light for what also happened to be his 100th goal as a Maple Leaf.
“Yeah, she’s been a while, right?” Kessel said. “It’s always good to score a goal.”
Marvelled Randy Carlyle, the Leafs coach: “Not many people could put that puck where he put it. That’s as simple as that. A lot of guys can try and put it in that area. But he can do that on a regular basis.”
Carlyle was quick to point out that the game was hardly a Maple Leaf masterpiece.
“Not one we would frame,” is how the coach put it.
Still, it was Toronto’s second straight win on a three-game road trip that concludes Saturday in Montreal. And for Leafs goaltender James Reimer, it was certainly something worth commemorating. The game marked his first win in his home province as an NHLer. As the favourite son of tiny Morweena, Man., Reimer looks forward to his team’s road trips to this prairie capital, where he lost in his NHL debut here a season ago. Reimer’s hometown is about a two-hour car ride north. For Thursday’s Leafs-Jets game, friends and family were expected to drive down in droves.