The Maple Leafs winger scored his first of the season late in the third period to lift Toronto over the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 on Thursday night.
"I know it's eventually going to go in there," said Kessel, who had 37 goals last season. "I've had some chances. Bozie (Tyler Bozak) made a good drop pass and I went to the net and was fortunate to get it in."
Bozak also scored shorthanded and Matt Frattin added a goal for the Leafs (6-5-0), who won their second straight of a three-game road trip.
Zach Redmond and Andrew Ladd scored for the Jets (4-5-1), who have lost four of their last five games.
The Jets outplayed the Leafs for two periods and were ahead 2-1 in the third when the momentum shifted.
"I wouldn't say (the game) would be one that we were going to frame," said Leaf's coach and former Jet Randy Carlyle.
It was a homecoming for the popular long-time resident of Winnipeg as a player and then coach of the Manitoba Moose. He received a standing ovation from fans when he was introduced.
"I thought we really didn't play well for the first two periods and I thought we were much better in the third, specifically the last 10 minutes of it, and we were fortunate to eke out a win," he said.
"We've got to feel fortunate that our power play finally came through and our top goal-scorer finally hit the back of the net."
For the Jets, it was one more frustrating night after a promising start.
"There's a lot of good things we did but, at the end of the day, when we've got a 2-1 lead going into the third, you've got to be smarter and you've got to close out those games," said centre Bryan Little.
Little was Winnipeg's most productive forward Thursday night with two assists and coach Claude Noel said he is going to have to shake up his two top lines.
Winnipeg's defence seems to be providing much of their offence lately, with blue-liner Tobias Enstrom leading the team with 13 points.
"You've got to make changes, you can't just sit back and watch this," he said.
"You've got to juggle this thing around a little bit. . . They get on the power play and they score and our opportunities don't even exist on our power play."
The Jets went 0-for-4 on the power-play and had trouble even getting off a shot.
Noel refused to comment on the third-period holding penalty for Alexei Ponikarovsky that led to Kessel's power-play goal.
There was no scoring the first period but the Jets came out fast and hard with four shots on goal before the Leafs had one — no repeat of Tuesday's flat start against the Panthers.
Redmond, from the Jets' AHL farm team, scored his first NHL goal thanks to a 2-on-1 short-handed breakaway initiated by Bryan Little, who fed him a cross-ice pass the rookie fired past James Reimer's glove hand.
Dion Phaneuf was the only Leaf between the two Jets and Toronto's Manitoba-born goaltender.
But three minutes later, a mistake by Jets defenceman Paul Postma handed Bozak a 1-on-1 short-handed shootout with Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
Ladd put the Jets ahead in the third, tipping in a bullet slapped from just inside the blue-line by Grant Clitson that beat Reimer's glove hand again.
Cody Franson fired a shot that Frattin got credit for as the puck glanced off him past a downed Pavelec to tie the game at 14:58.
Kessel popped in Bozak's drop pass less than a minute later after the Jets took a holding penalty.
Pavelec stopped 15 shots while Reimer made 23 saves.