Call it a clearing up of overblown misinterpretations or a sweeping under the rug, all parties involved including Wilson, Kessel and teammates were quick to publicly declare yesterday’s media firestorm much ado about nothing after today’s practice. The nature of the relationship between Wilson and Kessel will always be something only Kessel and Wilson themselves have a true feel for. Opinions of Wilson’s dressing room management and Kessel’s play aside, the interpretation of the quote “I’m not sure if it’s working out here” as a trade request does seem to be out of context and can better be explained as poorly expressed comment on the latest line changes by an inhibited personality in Kessel.
The focus for Kessel, starting on a line with Joey Crabb and Darryl Boyce, is now shifted towards ending the ten-game goalless slump that has brought on all of this heightened media attention. With Atlanta coming to town he has a pretty favourable opponent when it comes to his goal scoring cause. Atlanta’s 3.13 goals against per game average ranks them 26th in the league. Consider then that the Leafs sit 24th in the category at 3.03 GA/G and it’s not hard to see why these two teams have combined for 21 goals between them in their two meetings this season.
The last time these two clubs met was one of the Leafs’ most enjoyable performance of the season to date and one which is unlikely to be topped in terms of goals output. Indeed, that memorable evening of January 7th the Leafs could seemingly do no wrong offensively, with the Mac and the USSR line and Tomas Kaberle (4 assists) absolutely rolling in the points in a 9-3 stomping, keyed by a Ben Eager penalty parade. It effectively erased the memory in which the Leafs were on the other side of a drubbing of sorts; a 6-3 loss just before Christmas.
The Thrashers were previously the team to catch as the holder of the eight and final playoff spot in the East but a 2-5-3 record over their last ten has seen them fall to ninth behind Carolina, who are in fact tied with Atlanta on points at 53 but sit in eighth by virtue of holding two games in hand. I’d say this is a key game against another team on the outside looking in but the point conceded late to Carolina and big loss to Buffalo seem to have all but killed any hopes of gaining significant ground on those above them in Eastern Conference. You have to figure if the Leafs have any remaining designs on pushing up the standings, they’d have to grab six of six or close to it from Atlanta, New York (Islanders) and New Jersey in their next three games.
This Thrashers team seems prime for the picking, if the Leafs were in such a position to prey on anybody. Atlanta has entered a prolonged New Year slump. Dustin Byfuglien, once scoring at a point a game pace from the point, has scored one point since the calendar changed and that came January 2. It’s been over a month since Byfuglien has been on the scoresheet. Compounding matters, Tobias Enstrom (41 points in 50GP) has missed his last five and remains out due to a hand injury; the scoring from the blueline has vanished as of late for the Thrashers. It’s never been there this season for the Leafs, who have ten goals total from the blueline.
Jean Sebastien Giguere gets the start for the Leafs with Reimer returning to net tomorrow against the Islanders after his toughest outing of the season Saturday in Buffalo.