TORONTO - Mike and Lian Crabb have made a few treks down from Anchorage, Alaska to see their son Joey play, but none have been timed with any of his 34 NHL appearances.
That could change in the next couple of weeks with another family trip in the works and Crabb proving very useful in five games so far with the Maple Leafs. After a revolving series of left wingers trying to complement Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, Crabb has shown signs of becoming that mix of snark and spark that the underperforming duo need.
Crabb had two points in Saturday’s 5-1 win over Ottawa, three in four games on their line and four in five for the Leafs in the span of two call-ups.
But we’re talking about the Leafs here. They’ve achieved back-to-back wins just three times since a 4-0 start. The acid test for Crabb & Co. will be Monday against the Boston Bruins, who have made Kessel and Bozak all but disappear this season and last.
Kessel accorded Crabb some high praise by mentioning him in the same sentence as Boston’s steamroller Milan Lucic, a former teammate.
“That's what Lucic does. He’s physical, he gets on the puck and gets a turnover,” Kessel said. “Joey brings a certain aspect of that. He’s got into the forecheck and used his body well to bump guys.”
Bozak had two goals on Saturday, his first such outing in two NHL seasons and first time he’s scored in back-to-back games since last year. Kessel also assisted on both goals and used his wheels on a back check to steal a puck and start the play.
“(Crabb) has been great for us,” Bozak agreed. “He loves to go to the net, but he can make plays and he’s always looking for you.”
Crabb had 18 points in 34 games with the Marlies when summoned up to the Leafs, the club hoping he could do what rookie Nazem Kadri couldn’t, at least while the latter was cast as a winger.
“I’ve always been a two-way player,” Crabb said. “Growing up, I had some offensive abilities and I didn’t lose that completely, I hope.”
You can bet his parents are following developments very closely as they ponder coming in from Anchorage again. Crabb is a proud third-generation Alaskan from America’s most northerly city
“A lot of people moved up there around World War II because there were a lot of military bases close to Japan,” Crabb said. “Then the big road (the Alcan Highway) was built and my family has been up there ever since. I loved it in Alaska, playing out on frozen ponds, spending hours and hours out there.”
Crabb’s parents came in to watch him in the AHL a few times with Chicago, but missed his 29-game stint with the Atlanta Thrashers. They saw him a few times with Colorado College, after he was a late-round pick of the Rangers, but in their only Toronto visit earlier this year, Crabb was with the Marlies.
“They’ve tried three or four times,” Crabb said. “They’ve made plans again, but the tickets are tentative so they can cancel if they have to. Hopefully, it works out this time. I’ve been in the league a few years and I’m used to this stuff, being called up and sent down.”
Crabb waited his turn as a number of farmhands went up ahead of him, such as Christian Hanson, Kadri, Jay Rosehill, Mike Zigomanis and Luca Caputi. But the sun is shining on him right now, along with centre Darryl Boyce.
Coach Ron Wilson wants veterans on the team to take note.
“(Boyce and Crabb) have been kind of kicking around,” he said. “They view this as a great opportunity to bring that sense of desperation to their game that we need right now.”