Phil the Thrill wants Toronto to take a chill pill.
With the Maple Leafs losing streak now at six games, leading scorer Phil Kessel made a rare appearance in front of the media on Thursday morning after practice to try and quell the growing storm.
One thing he said he doesn’t agree with is the hullabaloo over captain Dion Phaneuf not speaking with the media after Tuesday’s ugly loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Phaneuf was called out in particular by Fan 590 radio host Sid Seixeiro, who went on a blistering rant over the no-show.
“Him not talking one day, I think people made way too big a deal of it,” Kessel said. “Everyone deserves a day or two off here.
“Dion’s a fun guy in the room and everyone loves him here... What happened with him not talking got blown way out of proportion.”
In fairness to Phaneuf, he generally speaks after every single game, win or lose. He ultimately appeared on both Toronto sports radio stations to offer a mea culpa, explaining he was too emotional to meet with the press after having one of his worst games of the year.
He reiterated those comments on Thursday, saying that he regretted the decision.
“I can’t remember the last time that I didn’t make myself available,” Phaneuf said. “But I should have been available. You guys can keep asking away. I’m here for you today.”
Phaneuf also apologized for his play against the Blues, whose top line led by David Backes picked apart Toronto in what became a 5-3 win. The Leafs were outshot 23-7 in the first period and only a late comeback attempt and good goaltending by Jonathan Bernier made the score close.
“That wasn’t even close to the level I have to play at,” Phaneuf said. “I accept responsibility for that.”
In addition to his thoughts on the captain, Kessel also offered a few comments on Toronto’s slide, including that he didn’t think they were that far away from pulling out of the abyss.
Currently tied with three teams with 80 points, the Leafs are technically in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and have played more games than all the teams they’re deadlocked with.
It will likely take a run of at least five wins in their final eight games for Toronto to make the postseason, and back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Detroit starting on Friday loom large.
“I don't think we're playing that bad,” Kessel said. “The past game we didn't play well a little bit but we fought back. Obviously we got to play better and find some wins.
“We’re starting games terribly. We’re getting down a couple goals. They’re outplaying us for the first half of the game then all of a sudden we wake up and it’s just too late.”
Kessel added that he doesn’t believe nerves are playing a role in his team’s shaky starts.
“I don’t think anyone’s nervous,” he said. “I think we’re all professionals here. We’ve just got to play better at the start.
“There’s pressure in any situation like this. Especially, what have we lost, five or six in a row here. We’ve just got to bounce back. If we can get a couple wins here, it’ll be positive for our group.”