PITTSBURGH - Of all the unlikely spots in the hockey universe to seek some stability, Clarke MacArthur settled on Toronto.
He was tired of moving around, weary of NHL teams that didn’t believe enough in him or didn’t have the resources to make it happen.
After just three games as a Maple Leaf, it may end up being the best decision of his professional life, not to mention a payoff to the leap of faith Toronto management took in taking a shot on a bargain-basement free agent.
MacArthur’s two goals Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins helped the Leafs to a hang-on-for-dear-life 4-3 win in a game that won’t be remembered for its style points but rather for a team that is showing early this season it is determined to get up off the floor in a hurry.
With four goals in three games, suddenly MacArthur is the leading scorer on the surprising Leafs, now 3-0 and atop the Eastern Conference standings.
For the first time since 1999, they have started the season with a three-game win streak, a roll they didn’t hit until games 66-68 last season.
Of the many new faces to fast-track last season in the rear-view, MacArthur is rapidly showing his value.
“I was really upset with what happened in the summer, almost sick and tired of that kind of thing,” MacArthur said, referring to the Atlanta Thrashers rejection of a $2.4 million arbitration offer. “That’s where I am in my career. I just like what they hard here. I like the coaching staff. I know how the GM builds teams.
“Eventually we are going to win here.”
Who knows how long that will take, but at age 25, MacArthur, like the rest of the young Leafs, has time on his side.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke had no qualms about spending $1.1 million on a one-year deal and so far anyway, has been rewarded with a second line that is producing at a better than expected rate.
On a night when the first unit went missing - one shot between them and none from lead man Phil Kessel, who was benched for part of the third period, the Leafs dug in.
On a night when the Penguins, an elite team still looking for a first victory at their spiffy new Consol Energy Center, loaded up a power line of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the third, it was the Leafs that showed more will.
“We won the game against a team that was desperate for a home win, so I’m proud of the guys,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “They are learning how to win and learning the process.”
They did it with some superb saves from Jonas Gustavsson, making his first start of the season, but showing no rust.
Sure, he gave up two goals on his first three shots, but he didn’t do anything particularly wrong on either of them. And he wouldn’t be the first goalie to fall victim to the nifty Crosby backhand that beat him in the last minute of the second period to make the score 4-3.
Instead of panicking, the sophomore Swede lived up to his nickname and made some Monster saves in the final two periods as the Leafs were outshot 25-14 overall.
They did it with MacArthur and his second-line comrades, Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, whose behind the back pass to set up the game winner was a beaut.
And they did it with some big play from the fourth line, which also provided two goals and is becoming a rock of reliability at key moments for Wilson.
Niftiest of those was defenceman Francois Beauchemin’s blast from the point in the second period made possible because centre Mike Zigomanis won a clean faceoff against Crosby.
The Penguins, who had built a 2-1 lead after the first only to see the Leafs score three unanswered, trailed 4-3 after 40 minutes and seemed determined to surge. But Toronto put on the clamps defensively, relying on Gustavsson to make the big save when the Pens broke through for a good chance.
“A win is a win,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “In the third we held on to a one-goal lead and that’s a big thing to do, especially against a team with that firepower.
“The biggest thing is we did what it took to win the hockey game. They all count.”