WINNIPEG – He is the unofficial spokesman to Phil Kessel. And at that moment when Kessel ended a season-long goal drought with the eventual game-winner in a second straight Leafs victory, no one was happier than Tyler Bozak, not even Kessel himself.
“I won't get grilled anymore about not getting him the puck and him not putting it in,” Bozak grinned in conversation with TSN.ca, following a 3-2 win over the Jets. “I know he's relieved. I knew it was only a matter of time. I'm really happy for him and now we can hopefully start a little streak here.”
It took 46 shots for Kessel to finally bury his first of the year, a laser that blew past the glove of Ondrej Pavelec, fired like a dart, precisely in the top right corner, just under the bar. “Not many people could put that puck where he put it,” Randy Carlyle noted afterward. “A lot of guys can try and put it in that area, but he can do that on a regular basis.”
With the marker, Kessel concludes what had become the longest drought of his career to begin a season, a 10-game spell that saw him post just six assists.
“It's been a long time,” he said, stubble and relief spread equally across his face. “Happy to get one in there.”
1. Winnipeg Returns
It was a night of returns in many respects for the Winnipeg lot on the Leafs bench. Randy Carlyle spent nearly 20 years here as both player and coach and was greeted with a rousing standing ovation from the MTS Centre crowd. “This is a nice, warm fuzzy place,” he said after the game. “As cold as it can be for people this place is very comfortable for myself when I come here. It feels like home in a lot of ways. When you spend 20 years in a community and your family and your children grow up here you get roots in the community and you know a lot of people … It's a warm welcome that's for sure. It was much appreciated.” Also returning to the city was Manitoba native James Reimer, who made 23 saves for his first win in two trips to Winnipeg. The 24-year-old was welcomed with a regular chorus of ‘Reimer' jeers throughout the night. “It's nice to be appreciated,” he joked. “At least they were pronouncing it right, that's really all that matters. No, it was fun. Obviously this is one of the best places in the league to play and it's the fans; they create a great atmosphere and they get into it and obviously they give their team a huge boost.” Reimer had dropped his only previous start in Winnipeg, falling 3-2 on New Year's Eve 2012. Completing the list of returnees were Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, fourth liners who both received praise from Carlyle after the game for their energy and effort in the final frame, helping to spark the Leafs comeback win.
2. Franson pacing offence from Leafs D
The unlikely leading point producer from the Leafs blueline, Cody Franson notched his fifth point in eight games this season when he fired a puck off the left shin of Matt Frattin, who was charging to the net for the game-tying goal. “For myself it's fortunate,” he told TSN.ca of the recent point production. “But you don't get any of that stuff without the rest of the guys on the team doing what they're doing out there. I don't get that [assist] unless [Frattin] goes to the net as hard as he did. That's not an easy thing to do. He went there, he put his nose to the grindstone, let it hit him and go in … Takes a little bit of luck sometimes.” After bouncing in and out of the lineup again early this year, Franson is gradually cementing his place on the third pair, suiting up in his sixth straight game on Thursday.
3. Kadri early reflections, part one: improvements
The Leafs leading scorer after 11 games this season – he picked up an assist on the Frattin goal giving nine points – Nazem Kadri identified the faceoff circle as his top priority for improvement in the early going this season. “I've been doing a lot of extra work with the draws and trying to talk with some of the guys to find out some technical things that maybe I can do a little better,” he told TSN.ca before Thursday's game. “It's almost like a math problem, a faceoff, because you've got to figure out which way [the opponent's] stick's pointing, which way his wingers are set up; there's a lot of different variables you have to look at.” Kadri finished a scorching 8-10 on the draw against the Jets, now sitting at 45.4% for the season.
A look at his game-by-game numbers (opponent, Faceoffs won-total and percentage) reveals inconsistency with very recent improvement:
|New York Islanders||5-12||42%|
|New York Rangers||5-10||50%|
Kadri has been looking to Tyler Bozak, 16th overall in faceoffs this season, for advice. “He tries to give me as many tips as possible,” Kadri said. “Just little things. All these centremen now do their homework and watch video on just strictly faceoffs so they know what the opposition's doing before the game even starts.”
4. Kadri reflections part two: accomplishments
On the flip side to faceoffs, Kadri said he's done very well to ‘support' the puck, being in and around the play and open to help his teammates. “I realized that once my support for the puck is better then I'm going to get the puck even more,” he said. “And obviously I don't shy away from getting the puck. I think I'm a guy who kind of always wants it. I know Randy's called me ‘7-Eleven' a couple times because he thinks I'm always open, well I think I'm always open.” Chuckling as he recalled its origins, the 22-year-old said the ‘7-Eleven' nickname probably traces back to Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, who may have then passed it on to Carlyle.
5. Patience Required
A perfect 4-for-4 effort was a step in the right direction for the Leafs penalty kill. Prior to Thursday, the special teams unit had allowed four goals in two previous games, dropping to fourth-worst in the NHL. “That's obviously something that we have to get better at,” Jay McClement, the team's top penalty killing forward told TSN.ca before the game. “We're having breakdowns and not recovering from them. I think that's part of having a good PK; you're going to have breakdowns, but [you need to] have a second layer of defence to bail guys out.” According to McClement, patience is key. “I think we're having a breakdown and then we want to try so hard to back that guy up that we're being a little impatient. I think sometimes PK have to be a little bit more patient and try to buy some time for that guy to get back in position. We've got to get better at that and a lot of that is reads and talk. And that's one thing we can improve on always is more talk.”
Quote of the Night
“The boys talk about that sometimes too, say I've got to do all his talking for him.”
8 of 14 – Number of career goals from Matt Frattin that have come either in the third period (7) or overtime (1).
Stat Watch II
Stat Watch III
3-34 – Kessel's game-winner just the third Leaf powerplay goal in the past eight games.
Stat Watch IV
3 - All three of Tyler Bozak's goals this season have come on special teams; two on the powerplay, one shorthanded.
23:41 – Korbinian Holzer, an early career-high.
The Leafs wrap up their longest trip of the year in Montreal at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.