April 6, 2011
Top-six forward an improvement
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - In the beginning, there was one.
Now, with one game remaining in the 2010-11 regular season, the Maple Leafs can brag about several top-six forwards.
Phil Kessel legitimately was that kind of player in October, and another 30-goal season further underlined his value.
You can add Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur to the formerly short list. And Joffrey Lupul, who has been improving with each game in a Leafs uniform, is not far off.
The challenge next season for Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur could be to prove that each of their overall performances were not of the one-hit variety.
Secondary scoring has become a buzz-term in the National Hockey League, and fact is, the Leafs have not had much of it once one gets past Kessel, MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin ó the teamís top four scorers.
Tyler Bozak is fifth in team scoring with 31 points, a full 26 behind Kulemin, who is fourth.
Though general manager Brian Burke undoubtedly will make changes during the off-season, and by that we mean itís probable he will add to the top two lines, the top guys now will have to be the top guys again out of the gate in six months.
And it would be nice if Bozakís offensively poor year was a blip. Nazem Kadri is slick with the puck, and over a full schedule, will be counted on for more. Keep your fingers crossed that Colby Armstrong is getting a careerís worth of injuries out of the way in one season.
If the Leafs were going to go all out in their final two games despite no shot at the playoffs, they didnít do it on Wednesday night through the first 40 minutes in New Jersey against the Devils. Bozak and Luke Schenn shouldnít have been so tepid in their block attempts when Ilya Kovalchuk wired a shot into the net in the first period for a 1-0 lead, and Kadri and Keith Aulie were caught running around when Henrik Tallinder made it 3-0 late in the second period. A bad line change and little hustle on the Leafsí part helped result in the Devilsí second goal ... That the Leafs werenít in it mentally was clear when they were flagged for a too-many-men penalty late in the second period ... Purely from an entertainment point of view, itís unfortunate the Leafsí last game, at home on Saturday night versus the Montreal Canadiens, means nothing. It became that way when the Habs clinched a playoff spot and the Leafs were ousted from contention ... James Reimer will be part of the discussion when Canada brass, including general manager David Nonis, comes to make its goaltending decisions for the world championship in Slovakia. Whatís there to discuss, and who cares if Reimerís experience is extremely limited? He has been one of the top goalies in the NHL in the past several months and that should be enough to get him on the team ... Martin Brodeurís Hall of Fame career has not included dominance of the Leafs. With a 4-2 victory, Brodeur improved to just 20-17-9 versus Toronto.
From the hash marks
Little has gone right for Bozak when the puck has been on his stick, but that 3-on-5 goal was pretty sweet. The most recent one we can remember involving the Leafs was Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers scoring on Ed Belfour at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 22, 2005. Richards, now the Flyers captain, had been in the NHL for about two weeks ... For every Leafs fan who figures the late charge bodes well for the future, consider the Devilsí situation. They made a stunning run without one of their best players, Zach Parise, and coach Jacques Lemaire and Ilya Kovalchuk have a good working relationship. Weíre betting that the Devils seriously contend for a playoff spot next season ... Kovalchuk has scored 30 goals in eight consecutive seasons, and has recorded 700 points in 700 NHL games. The only time he did not hit 30 was when he had 29 as a rookie in 2001-02 ... The Leafs will end the season with 19 road wins, which is not super but still a marked improvement over a year ago, when they had 12. Itís the most wins away from home the Leafs have had since 2006-07, when they had 19 under coach Paul Maurice ... How frustrating have all of the non-playoff seasons since the 2004-05 lockout been for Leafs fans? Their worst record after the all-star game in those seasons was 16-12-3 in 2007-08. In three of those six seasons, the Leafs have played at a clip over .600, including 2010-11. The biggest trick to solve, apparently, is finding a way to carry it over into the meat of the following season ... Burke will be the guest speaker on Thursday night at OHF Bantam A championship banquet. The championship tournament begins Friday night at Leaside Gardens arena with Armstrong dropping the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff.