A 37-goal scorer one season ago, the 25-year-old has yet to score at this very early stage for the Leafs. Through the first four games, Kessel has attempted 20 shots (most in the league entering Friday's action) and unusually failed to find the back of the net.
Deeming it unusual is past performance. Kessel is a notoriously fast starter.
A look at his first six seasons in the league reveals a player who is prone to quick sprints out of the gate.
Early Season Goal Production
|Year||First 5 Games||First 10 Games|
* Through four games
However unlikely, Kessel's slow start shouldn't be of major concern yet. In each of the Leafs' four games – two wins, two losses – he has amassed a number of quality chances, failing only to score. At some point, logic would dictate those pucks finding twine.
All that being said, Kessel is paid to score and at a certain point collecting chances without finishing just won't cut it. He knows as much and has shown his frustration in kind, slamming a water bottle on the bench in Pittsburgh.
"That's natural for that to happen," head coach Randy Carlyle opined, "but we don't want to display that and we told him so. You don't have to display that to the opposition. You have to push through those things. What we've tried to do is not focus on the negatives, focus on the positives and we have a plan and [he should] focus on the next shift that you're going to create another scoring chance on versus what you just did or what the goalie did to you. Focus on being in the present and not in the past."
Carlyle added that team-wide power play struggles (1-for-12 in the last two games) have also played a role in Kessel's stunted start. Last season, he scored 10 of his 37 goals on the man advantage, also fifth in the league with 27 markers at even-strength.