Phil Kessel is hurt.
Don’t believe all the talk from Randy Carlyle about Kessel battling the flu, he’s hurt.
Kessel is averaging 18:58 of ice time this season. That’s a little lower than his career average in Toronto, but just a little bit.
With that being said, he played a season low 15:01 last Saturday when the Leafs hosted the Sabres. The night before, when the Leafs played the Sabres in Buffalo, Kessel had 21:12 time on ice.
That is a rather large drop. After playing only 15:01 on Saturday, he then played 15:41 on Tuesday and 15:27 yesterday against the Preds.
Kessel isn’t playing poorly, he’s on pace for 40 goals and possibly his best season since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Carlyle isn’t taking away ice time because he’s sick, or playing poorly, or any other excuse. He’s not playing him as much, because he’s hurt.
Now that does happen in the NHL, it’s a rough sport and players get hurt and nurse bumps and bruises all years.
Kessel is clearly willing to play through it. He scored two goals against the Islanders on Tuesday. He also just as clearly had his right wrist taped.
But if Kessel keeps playing through it, other teams are going to know. That runs a serious risk of someone taking a swipe at the wrist.
On top of that, the Leafs have already had their share of injuries. Kessel and Mason Raymond are the only two forwards to play in all 22 games this year.
The good news is that the Leafs roster is slowly getting back to normal. Kadri has finished his suspension and Bozak is expected back this weekend when the Leafs host the Washington Capitals.
The other ray of hope is that Kessel is a winger with some depth behind him. David Clarkson could use some extra ice time to get going and Nikolai Kulemin can benefit from extra ice time too, as both are former 30 goal scorers.