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Slump deepens for Leafs' Kessel Add to ...

It's become a frequent, quiet lament for Phil Kessel the past 20 games, one he repeated tonight after his team lost 4-1 at home to the Flyers in a game where both he and the Leafs again struggled mightily to find the back of the net.

Goalless in seven straight, Kessel has scored only once in his last 10 games and has three goals and seven points in his last 20, a stretch in which Toronto has sunk near the league basement in goals for.

"I'm getting chances to score goals," Kessel said softly. "I'm just not burying them."

In what was one of his longer postgame sessions with the media since coming to Toronto – 1 minute, 40 seconds – Kessel appeared as frustrated with his play as he's ever been, blaming himself for not being able to convert any of his seven shots on the night into goals.

"I'm disappointed in myself obviously," he said. "I've got to bear down and find a way to get it done. I don't know. I need a bounce. I've got to work hard. I've got to work harder I guess."

Kessel was then asked if he feels a greater burden being the lone proven offensive player on the roster.

"Obviously you want to play well, right?" he said. "They brought me in here to score goals and right now, I'm on a big struggle. I've got to figure it out."

For all the heat he is currently taking, in many respects, Kessel is as advertised: A small, one-dimensional sniper who has only four hits after 28 games. But that's what he has been his entire career, both when he scored 36 goals in 70 games as a Bruin two years ago and then 30 more in 70 games in his first season in Toronto last year.

He's currently on pace for 29 in 82 games this season, but because he has hardly any assists, is on pace for fewer than 50 points and to be a big-time minus – with many of those goals against coming during his recent stretch of poor games.

Some of his struggles can be attributed to often facing difficult opposition every night. Even more blame goes to the fact he hasn't exactly had world beaters to play with.

Against the Flyers, Kessel spent more than half of his 19 minutes on the ice matched again Chris Pronger, who as seen in the photo above had a close eye on him all night. Kessel's most common linemates, meanwhile, were Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong, a pair who have combined for five goals this season and are mired in ugly offensive droughts of their own.

Over the past 10 games, coach Ron Wilson has used Kessel mainly on four different line combinations, alternating him with various trios with Bozak, Armstrong, Nazem Kadri, Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur to no avail.

After Kessel's latest no show on the scoresheet against Philadelphia, however, the coach continued to defend his play.

"He had five shots and probably three or four quality chances last night [against Pittsburgh] and tonight he had seven shots and probably out of seven three or four were good scoring opportunities," Wilson said. "Then it's between he and the goaltender and the goalie [Brian Boucher] made the saves on the plays."

Which has often been the case of late.

"He's just got to keep shooting the puck," Wilson said. "Keep shooting the puck. He was getting fed tonight. If he gets those opportunities, the puck's going to go in. Hopefully it breaks the slump."

The Leafs are in big trouble if it doesn't.

With Kessel mostly ineffective the past 20 games, Toronto has gone 5-12-3 while scoring just 37 goals – a rate of 1.85 per game that would put them only ahead of the Devils (1.78) on the year.

Without any help coming via trade because of an 18-day Christmas roster freeze imposed by GM Brian Burke, things appear dire, especially with a schedule that includes the red-hot Canadiens on Saturday and continues next week with a three-game road swing through Western Canada.

With only 24 points after 28 games, the Leafs are on pace to finish with 70 points, four fewer than a year ago when they were second last in the NHL.

And because the Panthers won tonight, Toronto is ahead of only the Devils and Islanders in the standings and essentially out of the playoff race, barring one of the more remarkable turnarounds in league history.

A word on the boo birds

Several of the Leafs were again asked about all the boos at the Air Canada Centre, which weren't quite as loud as during last week's 5-0 loss to the Oilers but were definitely present as Toronto failed to muster many quality offensive chances.

"They have a right to be angry," Versteeg said. "It's not like our effort's not there – we want to win. It sucks when we don't. They have the right [to boo] ... They haven't had a winning team in a long time now and they pay good money. They have the right to do whatever they want."

Netminder J-S Giguere agreed.

"They have not much to be excited about to be honest," he said.

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