Toronto came into Saturday's clash with the Bruins in the Air Canada Centre with plenty of reasons to feel pretty good. The Leafs were sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference. They had yet to lose in regulation on home ice this season. And Kessel, the man their franchise gave up so much to get 26 months ago, was leading the NHL in scoring.
Then the Bruins came calling, and Kessel, as he is known to do against his old club, pulled a disappearing act. In fairness, none of the other Leafs showed up for this one either.
But Tyler Seguin sure did. The first of the three players Boston selected with the picks acquired for Kessel, Seguin continued his breakthrough sophomore season with his best performance yet. Seguin collected his first NHL hat trick to lead Boston to an emphatic 7-0 victory.
"I never really pictured getting the hat trick in this barn," said Seguin, who hails from Brampton, Ontario and had a large contingent of family and friends on hand to watch his historic performance. "It's definitely very special, but we had a full, complete team game out there."
Seguin opened the scoring with a one-timer on the power play off a perfect cross-ice feed by Rich Peverley for the lone goal of the first period.
"He's one of those guys who can bury his opportunities," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That first goal was huge for us on the power play. The way he scored that just kind of gave us the confidence we needed to keep moving forward here."
The Bruins were even more confident 34 seconds into the middle frame. That's when Seguin made the play of the night, batting in the puck out of mid-air after Patrice Bergeron's pass was deflected in front.
"I definitely had the bounces going my way," Seguin said. "The second goal, it was just in mid-air. You've got to get pretty lucky to hit it out of mid-air, so it worked out. I can't say enough good things about my linemates tonight. They did a great job. We had some great plays, some good 3-on-2's, and luckily I was just able to finish some of the plays off."
The hand-eye coordination Seguin displayed on that goal will be what most fans remember from that play, but the real impressive thing he did in that sequence came well before that. Seguin, whose need to learn his defensive responsibilities limited his ice time as a rookie, began the play by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone. He gained control, got the puck to Bergeron and drove hard to the net, putting himself in position to make the spectacular mid-air finish.
"It was one of those nights that he had a nose for the net and he made some awesome plays," Bergeron said. "Not just on the goals, but also creating some turnovers in the neutral zone and stuff like that, so it means a lot."
That kind of attention to detail on defense is just one of the many things Seguin is learning from his new center.
"It goes far and beyond," Seguin said. "I've talked to Marshy [Brad Marchand] about it before, it's just amazing all the little things Bergy can do. He's just a young guy still, but I'm younger than him so he's a guy I definitely look up to and want to try to be like."
The prelude to Seguin's final goal was also as significant as the shot that gave him his first hat trick. Late in the second period, Seguin was rattled by a huge hit from Toronto forward Joey Crabb. Seguin went to the bench in obvious pain, but stayed in the game and on his next shift broke down the right wing, took a feed from Bergeron and placed it perfectly into a tiny hole above the shoulder of Leafs netminder Ben Scrivens and beneath the crossbar.
With the three goals, which came on his only three shots in the game, Seguin now leads the Bruins with 7-7-14 totals in 12 games this season. That also gives him 5-3-8 totals and a plus-4 rating in eight games against the team that could have drafted him.
That Kessel guy? He was a minus-1 with two shots and a giveaway in 16:13. In 14 games against Boston, he has just 2-4-6 totals and is a minus-9.
So this probably isn't the best time to mention to Leafs fans that Jared Knight, taken with the 2010 second-round pick acquired from Toronto, has 11-6-17 totals through 16 games in London this season or that Dougie Hamilton, selected ninth overall this June with the final pick from the Kessel deal, is 8-17-25 through 17 games and was just named the OHL's Defenseman of the Month for October? Didn't think so.