January 7, 2011
Leafs win a laugher in Atlanta
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
ATLANTA - When it comes to the top lines in Maple Leafs history, the Lanny McDonald-Darryl Sittler-Errol Thompson unit comes to mind.
And, just not to peeve off Maple Leafs all-time penalty minutes leader Dave Williams, the McDonald-Sittler-Tiger combo wasn’t too bad either.
Almost two decades later, the Dave Andreychuk-Doug Gilmour-Nikolai Borschevsky line did a fair amount of damage against opposing goalies. And when Wendel Clark returned to town and replaced Borschevsky, he added some grit to that terrific trio.
Of course, if your really want to go back in the time machine, the Kid Line of Charlie Conacher, Harvey “Busher” Jackson and Joe Primeau of the 1930s probably was the first elite line in team history.
We’re not quite ready to put the 2010-11 unit of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin at that level. At least not yet.
But if they keep going at this torrid pace, it might just be a matter of time.
In easily their most dominating performance of the season, the Maple Leafs humiliated the Atlanta Thrashers 9-3 on Friday night at Philips Arena.
And, in the process, the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin unit was simply unstoppable.
By the time this butt-kicking had ended, all three members had scored a pair of goals. Kulemin led the way with a four point night, with MacArthur and Grabovski chipping in with three each.
It was all part of a one-sided beating that featured a season-high five power play goals, four coming during a five minute power play that came when Thrashers pugilist Ben Eager sucker-punched former Thrasher Colby Armstrong late in the second period. Armstrong's eye immediately swelled shut, causing coach Ron Wilson to keep him out for precautionary reasons.
Eager’s foolish act resulted in a match penalty for attempt to injure, which carries with it an automatic one-game suspension and, perhaps, even more after league disciplinarian Colin Campbell reviews the tape.
The thumping eerily reminded onlookers of a game more than five years earlier than also ended with the Leafs humiliating Atlanta 9-1 at Philips Arena. On that memorable evening of October 17, 2005, the Leafs pumped home seven power play goals, two more than they collected Friday night.
Asked about the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin trio earlier in the day, assistant coach Tim Hunter said the key to the success of the three players was “the outstanding communication they had with each other out on the ice.”
Eight hours later, they let their sticks do their talking for them.
Of course, there were plenty of other Leafs sharing in the kudos.
Before absorbing Eager’s cheap shot right in his mush, Armstrong had the pleasure of scoring a goal in his first game back at Philips Arena since leaving the Thrashers to sign with the Leafs as a free agent over the summer. He also chipped in with an assist.
Armstrong’s linemate, Kris Versteeg, chipped in with three points while veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle had one of the most productive outings of his career with four assists.
Not to be forgotten is rookie goalie James Reimer, who registered his second win in three NHL starts, all which came in the past week. Reimer has allowed just six goals in that span.
Ironically, the Thrashers opened the scoring at 2:36 of the first period when defenceman Toby Enstrom fired a perfect shot into the top corner to put the hosts up 1-0.
Cue the crushing.
The Leafs would score the next nine goals to embarrass the Thrashers. It was the first time Toronto registered nine consecutive goals in a game since Jan. 4, 2007 when they smashed the Boston Bruins 10-2 in Beantown.
The Leafs have now won three consecutive road outings and three-of-four overall heading into their trip out west, where they will visit the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes respectively.
Even if the weather is warm out there, this much is certain: the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin unit can’t get much hotter.