The goals kept coming for Phil Kessel, but even his sixth of the season wasn’t enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs to pull out a fourth win to start the year.
The Leafs fell 3-2 in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night, putting in a fairly listless performance early and generating almost zero offence for much of the game – save for Kessel’s one-man show that opened the scoring early in the second period.
Toronto managed to rally late, getting a goal from Nikolai Kulemin with less than five minutes to play, but a wide open David Jones scored his fourth of the season early in OT for the win.
At the time of Kessel's goal, however, it looked like it may have been a turning point, as Toronto had been badly outskated in the first period and was on the ropes against a remarkably well organized Avs team.
But three minutes after Kessel – announced as the NHL’s first star of the week earlier in the day – flicked a wrist shot past former Leafs tender Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Avs winger Daniel Winnik did the same through James Reimer’s five-hole to tie the game early in the middle frame.
Colorado’s power play then found the back of the net as veteran Milan Hejduk made the score 2-1 on another goal that, despite being through traffic, Reimer could have had.
"It's frustrating on my part because I feel like I should have had some of those shots," Reimer said afterwards. "Another day maybe I would have got a little more on it. Not to say they were terrible goals or anything but they're stoppable. It's frustrating on my part because I know I could have played better. That always rattles me. But it's a valuable point."
"There were a couple he obviously would want back," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "But he made a number of other saves that makes up for it. It's just one of those nights unfortunately they got some lucky bounces on two of the goals."
Down by a goal, the Leafs finally began to threaten late in the third, generating their best pressure of the game in the final minutes, which finally resulted in Kulemin’s goal to tie things late.
As it turned out, it wasn’t enough – but given their play early on, Toronto was lucky to get even the single point in this one.
"For us, it's a good point," Wilson said. "We had a number of chances, finally tied it up, but we weren't getting the offence that we needed."
The big line finally strikes
With Kessel able to put "only" one past Giguère, the Leafs biggest problem until late in the third was the lack of another line stepping up to fill the void.
Then came Kulemin’s goal – his first of the season and just the second for anyone on the line with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur that had been mostly MIA after such a strong showing a season ago.
The Leafs will need more big goals from the trio, which combined for 80 goals last season, to back up Kessel if they want to keep winning games.
"I felt in the second period we should have had three goals," MacArthur said. "I missed an empty net. It's coming. We made some good little plays. It would have been nice to score one earlier and put some more heat on there. But it was a good job by us to at least get the point."
Power outage: 0 for 4
The Leafs posted a doughnut on the man-advantage again, dropping them to an ugly 2-for-21 (9.5 per cent) on the season.
While the penalty-kill appears much improved, Toronto’s power play remains a bit of a mess, and the young, speedy Avs had little trouble picking off passes and clearing the zone Monday.
It may be time for a change in personnel as the line combinations that have often worked at even-strength look dazed and confused when up a man.
"It's definitely a work in progress," defenceman John-Michael Liles said. "We would have liked to have gotten a goal, but it didn't cost us too much. We'll continue to work on it and hopefully get better. I'd rather be having the struggles not scoring right now than not scoring at the end of the year."
One of the issues for both special teams was how poor Toronto was on the draw, winning just 36 per cent after starting the year as one of the top teams in the league on faceoffs. The Avs four regular centres were all 60 per cent or better.
It was one of the reasons Wilson began sitting Tyler Bozak in the third period in favour of putting David Steckel or Matt Lombardi on Kessel's line.
"When you put Phil Kessel out in the offensive zone, especially in situations where they're tired after they've iced the puck, you want to win that draw," Wilson said. "And Steckel was doing that."
The goalie battle
In a game billed as mentor versus protégé in goal, it was the veteran who got the better of the youngster in this one.
If only by a nose.
Making his second start since joining Colorado in the off-season, Giguère was solid except for allowing the one Kessel laser beam on the game’s first goal.
Reimer, however, fought the puck at times, allowing what he admitted were two iffy Avs goals in regulation.
"I'll dwell on it tonight for an hour or two and I'll beat myself up about it," Reimer said. "But tomorrow morning, it's like it never happened."
"It was nice to see the guys," Giguère said of his former teammates. "I had a good time playing here. Even though it didn’t go the way I would have liked on the ice, I have a bunch of respect for them. I think they’re going to be a good team this year and obviously I wish them luck."
Giguère added that the Avs, now 5-1-0, are hoping to continue to surprise the rest of the league.
"We’ve got a lot of confidence," he said. "Obviously, that’s a great road trip for us. It was something we were looking forward to, making some kind of statement right off the bat. Now if we want to be successful and we want to be a playoff team we need to bring these road games at home. We need to make sure we have the same kind of success at home, if not even more. We know we can do it now."
A new Komisarek
One of the bigger surprises in the early portion of the Leafs season has been the arrival of defenceman Mike Komisarek as a dependable option for the coaching staff.
A train wreck on many nights last season, Komisarek again logged another 16 minutes on Monday and looks far fleeter on his skates after dropping 15-plus pounds in the off-season.
He’s got a long way to go to live up to his $4.5-million (U.S.) a year deal, but for the moment, he’s ahead of the suddenly struggling Luke Schenn on Wilson’s depth chart – something evident in his ice time.
Time to cue up the “what’s wrong with Schenn?” conversation …