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Maple Leafs' Kessel aware critics 'expect more'

by Mike Brophy /

TORONTO -- With the Toronto Maple Leafs having made a coaching change, forward Phil Kessel, already their top scorer, is feeling additional heat to improve his play.

Kessel, who ranks 10th in NHL scoring with 18 goals and 41 points in 40 games, has one goal in his past nine games and three in his past 12.

"Obviously we haven't been winning and that's what happens; they're going to come after you," Kessel said. "It's never fun, but it's part of the business."

Former Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson suggested Tuesday during a radio interview that the core group of players on the Maple Leafs, which includes Kessel, may be uncoachable. Kessel was asked about his former coach’s statement and said, "I don't really care, to be honest with you. I didn't see it, so it doesn't really faze me."

Kessel has not missed a game this season and leads the Maple Leafs in scoring. He was asked if he feels he has done his part.

"I don't know," Kessel said. "You guys have to answer that. I don't know what you expect from me out there, but obviously you expect more."

Kessel was also asked about his consistency.

"Sometimes I go cold out there," he said. "I don't think I'm any different from anyone else in the League. What do you expect me to do out there?"

Kessel admitted the players must accept responsibility for the coaching change which saw Randy Carlyle dismissed Tuesday and Peter Horachek named interim coach Wednesday. Kessel also said he believes the Maple Leafs can be successful this season.

"You never want anyone to get fired, right?" Kessel said. "That shows your group didn't get it done, and I think it's disappointing for all the guys here when your coach gets fired. Hopefully through the last 42 games we can get it together. We're still in it, right? We're fighting and we've got to get back on track."

Heading into the game Wednesday against the Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs hold the final wild-card position in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Boston Bruins.

Asked if he feels the core group of players needs to be broken up, Kessel said, "I think we've got a good team here. We're always right there every year and all of a sudden we hit these rough patches. We've just got to find a way to not go through them and play good hockey all year long. You know you're going to lose a couple of games here and there, but you can't go on long losing stretches like we have in the past."

Kessel said he believes making the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a possibility.

"We're always on the verge of making the playoffs," Kessel said. "I think there's a difference between making the playoffs and being a championship team. Everyone realizes that. We're always fighting. This year we had that long winning streak (six games) and then we go on a losing streak. I think that happens every year with us. We've got to somehow kick that and no matter what we have to get a win or two in there to bust up those losing streaks."

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said it never comes down to one player being the entire problem for a team’s struggles. He sympathizes with what Kessel is going through.

"I have never played for a Canadian-based team and I don't know how big the pressure is, but sometimes you just want the media to leave you alone and just focus on the hockey game," Ovechkin said. "It's not about one guy; it's about the team. Of course, if you are the face of the team most of the time you are going to get the blame. I don't think it's a Kessel problem. It's a team problem. If I was in his position, I just wouldn't listen to you guys (the media) and don't talk to you guys."

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