It might pain some Bruins fans to read this, but if you look at this season’s statistics Nathan Horton and Phil Kessel might very well be the same player.
Sure, Horton uses his 6-foot-2, 229-pound body to make his own room and his howitzer shot to beat goaltenders for the Bruins, while Kessel, at 6-foot, 202 pounds, is all about speed getting out into the open ice to create offense for Toronto.
Horton is 25 and Kessel 23. Horton carries a $4 million cap hit and Kessel hits the Maple Leafs’ cap at$5.4 annually. More a product of their teams’ success or lack thereof, Horton is a plus-14, while Kessel is a minus-14.
Plus, Horton — by his constant admission — loves Boston, while Kessel never seemed to be settled in the Hub.
However, look at the stats and tell me what the difference is between the two streaky forwards. Entering tonight’s showdown between the Bruins and Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, both have skated in 37 games. Kessel has scored 14 goals, five on the power play, while Horton has scored 11 goals, three on the man-advantage.
Their goal totals are similar, but so is the distribution of those goals over the course of the season. Kessel enters his match-up with the Bruins, who he has never scored against since leaving at the start of the 2009-10 season, with two goals in his last seven games — with both goals scored in the same game. His longest stretch without a goal this season is seven games, done twice.
Horton hasn’t scored in nine games entering tonight, his second drought that long this season. He also has a three-goal drought on his ledger. But he made up for his slumps with a five-goal-in-six-games stretch to start the season and has scored three goals over one six-game stretch and one four-game stretch.
If it’s just the nature of goal-scorers to be streaky, then Kessel and Horton are the definition of the term. Both could probably stand to add to the other elements of their games to contribute more when they’re not scoring. Hort0n should be more willing to use his body in the corners and in front of the goal. If Kessel could ever play a more responsible game and use his speed to aid the penalty kill, he’d be more worth the millions the Leafs threw at him.
When it comes down to it, however, both players are expected to just score. And both will be trying to get a new goal streak going after the puck drops tonight.