October 20, 2011
Leafs' road gets tougher
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - As long as one line is producing at an incredible rate and the wins keep coming, the need for secondary scoring on the Maple Leafs doesn’t seem so urgent right about now, does it?
That’s about to change as the team embarks on its first road trip of the season, a four-gamer with not an easy match in the bunch, in terms of emotion, anyway.
The Phil Kessel-Joffrey Lupul show has been a treat to watch and a big statistical start for both men, but starting Thursday night in Boston, we’re supposing the need to spread it out becomes significant.
There are all sorts of reasons, of course, not the least of which is Kessel can’t possibly keep up his seven-goals-in-five-games pace. The chemistry with Lupul is undeniably strong, but teams will get aggressive about matching up against the Leafs’ lead men, especially with the home side having last change.
Start with the Stanley Cup champions, where Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is likely to be in full froth after the team’s sloppy start to the season. Head coach Claude Julien will put the big man on the ice for much of the night and Chara will put a beating on whoever comes near the Boston net. All that room Kessel and Lupul have had to roam in the five-game Air Canada Centre homestand will be as good as gone.
After that, it’s on to Montreal where the Canadiens are likely to be still stinging from the opening-night loss to their historic rivals and will be ready to get physical to prove it.
Next up, Philadelphia and Chris Pronger. You get the picture, but for one final act, the Leafs final game of the road trip will be the Rangers’ home opener at the revamped Madison Square Garden.
We’re not here to rain on anyone’s parade, a nice 4-0-1 start to the Leafs season that somehow feels dramatically different than the exact same mark of a year ago. It was mostly downhill from there for those Leafs, of course, which is why at least being competitive on this big trip is so important.
And it starts with the buzz phrase we hear so often these days: Secondary scoring. Which brings us to the Mikhail Grabovski line, which had a strong pre-season but has had minimal impact so far in the regular season. It took some time for Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur to get it together last season but ,when they did, Grabovski — a notoriously slow starter — didn’t get his first until 13 games in last season. More is expected this time around.
“Yes and no,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said when asked about the need to have someone else join the party. “We’ve got to find a way to get the Grabovski line going a little bit more here.”
One thing the coach did Wednesday after MacArthur was “banged up” and also suffered from a case of the giveaways in the third period was to put rookie Matt Frattin up on the line, something Wilson hinted he may consider against the Bruins.
Grabovski hasn’t looked awful, though he missed a chance to give the Leafs the win late. MacArthur hasn’t done much in his three games and (after missing the first two with a suspension) and now may be hurt.
“It’s a bit frustrating,” Grabovski said. “But it’s 82-games. We just have to keep working hard.”
Meanwhile, if there is any tendency to get big-headed after what admittedly has been a good start, Wilson has plenty of ammunition to keep his players grounded. The coach was particularly disgusted with the sloppy, slow play by the defencemen, a malaise that has spread over the past two games.
“If we don’t move the puck out of your own end crisply, we’re not a very good team,” Wilson said. “Our strength is our speed and our skill we have up front. If we’re not head-manning pucks, we’re not a very good team.”
The guys that weren’t paid the price on Thursday. Luke Schenn’s early-season struggles are becoming a problem and he was docked for it, seeing only 11 minutes and 54 seconds ice time, a low among the six Leafs rearguards. Mike Komisarek, meanwhile, was stapled to the bench for almost the entire third period.
“It was a bit of a struggle,” Wilson said of Komisarek, ending his sentence right there to punctuate the understatement.