|Leafs' Mikhail Grabovski talks to Brad May along after his squirmish with Jason Blake, skating in the distance with head coach Ron Wilson. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/SUN MEDIA)
Maple Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski got hit with a one-two combination yesterday.
During practise at Lakeshore Lions Arena, the Belarus native got punched in the head by teammate Jason Blake, who was apparently retaliating for a slight perpetrated earlier by Grabovski during the workout. Reportedly, the two collided, words were exchanged and Grabovski tossed his stick in the direction of Blake -- although the aftermath was like a scene out of a Toronto gang shooting. Nobody saw anything.
"Nothing happened," Blake snapped later on.
Head coach Ron Wilson then took a verbal swipe at his rookie centre, a blow that likely hurt more than Blake's straight-right to the head. (Blake did keep his glove on). Wilson suggested that he will continue to cut down Grabovski's ice time as long as the 25-year-old continues to play a selfish brand of hockey. Grabovski has recorded one point in the Leafs' past five games and is a minus-3 during that time.
Wilson has juggled the lines in an attempt to get the nifty centre on track, putting him alongside the talented Niklas Hagman (Toronto's best player in their 6-4 loss in Tampa on Thursday) and the improving Nikolai Kulemin.
"He has to use his teammates and remember it's not a 1-on-5 game," Wilson said. "When you play 1-on-5 hockey and exclude not only the two wingers, but the point men when you're in the offensive zone, it's really difficult. It's hard enough to beat one guy, let alone two, three, for or five guys to get a scoring opportunity. The last two games he doesn't even have a shot on goal. And he's frustrated because all his 1-on-1 are not working. But that doesn't work for anybody."
Grabovski, who has 13 goals and 27 points in 51 games, has attempted more solo rushes into the opposition end in recent games, and that usually has resulted in ill-advised turnovers in the neutral zone. Wilson certainly has not been impressed.
"It's a lack of experience, and he's a little bit stubborn. But the way I can get that to stop is to not play him. We don't want to crush his creativity, but our game's about creating 2-on-1s and using your speed," Wilson added, before taking his obligatory shot at the media. "I know you guys thinks it looks great -- the one time out of 35 times he'll beat a guy 1-on-1."
Blake-Grabovski I (The Featherweight Free-For-All) aside, Wilson wasn't overly impressed with the workout -- "There wasn't a hit thrown in the whole practice," he said -- or the fact that his team has given up 18 goals in its past four games. And with the explosive, if under-achieving, Pittsburgh Penguins dropping by the ACC tonight, those stats could deteriorate.
"At least we're scoring," Wilson said. "But now we have to find a way to get some stops and try to find a way to play a little bit better defensively. But it's a combination -- our goalies have to make a few more stops and our defencemen have to do a better job clearing rebounds."
Centre Matt Stajan said there is a sense of frustration mounting over the club's last two losses in Florida -- games they could have won.
"We play so well for large portions of games and we just throw it away," he said. "We go through 10-minute lapses and four or five goals are in the back of our net and it eats away and it's frustrating for everybody. Only we can change it. We have no one to blame but ourselves."