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California Dreaming

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs kick off a four game road trip in Los Angeles tonight and are well into a segment of the season that will see them play 16 of 20 games away from Toronto. The trip comes as a result of Air Canada Centre's role in hosting the World Junior tournament.

There might not be a tougher three game segment in the NHL than the games in California. The Kings, Ducks and Sharks are a combined 32 games over .500 but the Leafs can take solace knowing they took two of three games in this stretch last March.

Phil Kessel will play in his 407th consecutive game as a Leaf, second only to Tim Horton who once played 486 straight games for the franchise.

Kessel's ability to stay healthy — knock on wood — has been a key to his consistency as his 19 goals have him on the verge of a seventh consecutive 20-goal campaign.

"Obviously you're always going to have bumps and bruises, but you always want to play," said Kessel. "Something's got to be really wrong, but I like to play the games and have fun playing them."

Kessel will get a bonus game later this month in Columbus as he was selected to the All-Star Game for the third time as a Maple Leaf.

Nazem Kadri had nothing but praise for Kessel following practise yesterday in Los Angeles knowing past trips to the Midseason Classic have proven interesting for his teammate.

"Phil deserves it. He's a world class player and deserves to be in this situation," said Kadri. "Hopefully he's not the last player taken again in the draft this year, he doesn't need another car."

"Hopefully he can bump up his stats and move up the draft a little bit. "

Kessel can expect to be busy moving forward. He has played 20 minutes or more in five of his past six games and his seven shots on net Friday against Columbus matched a season high.

California Dreaming for Kessel and Leafs Nation begins tonight in Los Angeles and pursuit of a fourth straight win at the Staples Center having not lost there since January 10, 2008.

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