Oh man, I crack myself up.
The best line of the night came via twitter from @Archimedies, who observed that "Phil Kessel plays like an NHL10 Be A Pro". And he does. Specifically, he plays like me playing Be A Pro. I kept waiting for Kessel to stay on the ice for an entire period, score twice into an empty net and then start a fight with three seconds left to pad his PIM totals.
The Leafs' game plan for Kessel is apparently to play every second shift, generally ignore his linemates, and shoot at every opportunity from every angle.
And here's the thing: I don't think that's a bad plan.
Because even after just a few shifts, it was obvious that Phil Kessel is easily the best player on this team. His game sense is excellent. His release is lightning fast. He has that unteachable ability to drift into exactly the right spot at exactly the right moment.
No, he didn't score tonight. But if he plays like this every night, he'll get his 35 goals easily, and maybe a lot more.
And for those of us still aboard the Leafs bandwagon (or, as it will be known from this point on, the "Kessel Vessel"), that makes tonight a mixed blessing. Because the good news is that Phil Kessel is far better than any other forward the Leafs have to offer.
The bad news is that... well... Phil Kessel is far better than any other forward the Leafs have to offer.
Watching a talent like Kessel go to work, it's hard not to notice the skill gap between him and so-called frontline talent like Mikhail Grabovski or Matt Stajan. The contrast was unmistakable on virtually every shift. It was enough to make me want to take the pen I was using to write "Mrs. Down Goes Gustavsson" in little hearts on my three-ring binder and jam it into my eye.
In short, it's the difference between a true first line talent, and a guy who happens to play on the first line because, well, somebody has to. Kessel is the former. Everyone else on the roster is the latter.
And we knew this already, or course. But we could pretend. Not any more. Not with Kessel buzzing around, reminding us of what a good player actually looks like.
So yes, Phil Kessel seems like the real deal, an elite talent. But he brings the grand total of Leaf forwards in that category to one. And tonight was a reminder that the rest of the bunch aren't even close.
And that's why this team, even with a healthy Phil Kessel, still isn't good enough to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning at home.