Saturday night in Montreal, Tyler Bozak pulled off an assist for the highlight reel just before Phil Kessel’s go-ahead 3-2 goal.

(The goal, Bob Cole’s call, and Kessel’s celebration were grade-A Leafs porn. It’s a shame there was horrible officiating the Leafs can’t protect leads, preventing this from being a game winner).

Note Bozak’s first pass into Kessel in the slot on the initial opportunity before the puck left the zone. Granted, the pass just before the goal was as lucky as it was good. There’s two Habs between him and Kessel, it actually went through Deharnais’ skates, and it’s a pass through the middle of the neutral zone that could easily lead to a  rush the other way. At the same time, his quick glance over the shoulder at Kessel, awareness of where he’s going to be and ability to put it into that area with a spinorama backhand pass was remarkable.

It marked another primary assist for Bozak, his fourth in his last three games.

Indeed, the Bozak-Kessel connection has been more than an on-ice chemistry myth and an off-ice bromance.

Before the break versus Vancouver, this was a dominant shift by Bozak full of excellent distribution, including a good pass into slot for JvR, a pass between the legs to Franson, and a ring around the boards back to Kessel.

Among forwards with a minimum of 500 minutes played at 5 on 5 this season, Tyler Bozak ranks second in primary assists per 60, behind only Gabriel Landeskog and ahead of Getzlaf, Malkin and Thornton.

SeasonBozak 1stA/60Rank Among NHL FwdsKessel’s GPGKessel’s PPG

With 12 points in his last 11, 11 of which are at 5v5, he’s been a significant part of the team’s resurgence of even strength offence. 29 of his 35 points in 38 games have come at even strength.

(Note: one of Bozak’s nicest primary assists came on the PP against San Jose.  Very similar to his setup pass to Kessel against Columbus).

RankPlayer5v5 Pts/605v5 TOI

So, hats off to Tyler Bozak for his excellent half season of hockey. No, Bozak isn’t likely to beat Sidney Crosby in first assists per 60 over a full season, let alone for the balance of the contract. But lord knows he’s had enough vitriol directed his way to deserve the applause when applause is due. Certainly he couldn’t have a better finisher or player, period, in the league than Phil Kessel on his line at the moment, but it’s been awfully hard to make the “passenger” argument this season.

That goal versus Montreal, by the way, combined with his assist earlier in the night moved Phil Kessel into the top spot in points scoring since October, 2011.




Monday Morning Links…

Two more days until the Trade Deadline.

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