Colborne hopes to give Leafs a jolt
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
Marlies join big team for final few games
TORONTO - The last thing Joe Colborne expected was a cup-a-joe call-up with the Maple Leafs.
Mired in his worst points slump of the year, two assists in his past 19 games with the Marlies, Colborne was told to join the Leafs on Monday for one of their few remaining meaningful games, the road half of a home and home in Buffalo. But the Leafs needed a centre with both Mikhail Grabovski and David Steckel hurt, so the 6-foot-5 Colborne gets a chance to audition for new coach Randy Carlyle. Colborne, reaped from the Tomas Kaberle trade a year ago, is projected to eventually be a key part of the Leaf rebuild.
“I know a lot of guys have been producing more than me and Nazem (Kadri) has been playing unreal,” Colborne said. “He’s really been deserving of this, but that said, I’m going to take this opportunity and run with it.”
Many in the organization have told Colborne not to sweat the lack of points too much. The second-year pro has been applying the lessons learned from his nine-game, four-point apprenticeship with the Leafs earlier this season. He was the AHL’s player of the month in October and has 16 goals and 21 assists in 60 games.
“When I was (first) called up, that was definitely a big step learning to play against bigger guys in the NHL,” Colborne said. “I think I’ve been able to use that and now show the new coaching staff what I can do.
“It (the slump) sucks. Right now, the pucks aren’t going in. But as of late, the coaches have been giving me a good opportunity. I’ve been hitting posts and generating chances, so hopefully I’ve been saving it for a chance up here. The (Marlies) have been successful of late, so that’s a positive. My commitment to the defensive zone is huge. I’ve come a long way in that area.”
Marlie teammate and fellow call-up Ben Scrivens said of Colborne: “his puck protection instincts are incredible ... he can hang on to it forever. He can work the puck down low and he also has the skills to dish to guys. I watched the Marlie game Sunday and he had three golden opportunities, one of them off the knob (of the goal stick), one off the crossbar. The good thing is that it only takes one to go in.”
Counting Colborne, the Leafs are carrying five players who saw action with the Marlies this year and most will be returned for the AHL playoffs. There is little appetite to disrupt the farm team any more than necessary, as it girds for what it hopes is a long Calder Cup playoff run. Kadri is one of those sure to factor in the outcome. In addition to getting a goal and shootout winner in a recent two-game recall by the Leafs, he had a huge role in the Marlies winning all three games on the weekend to solidify first place in their division.
“We have a little bit of swagger to us, but it’s definitely not cocky,” Colborne said. “(Coach) Dallas Eakins keeps us on a pretty tight leash. When we’re down, he’s so positive and that’s infectious in the room. We’re confident, even when we’re down a goal or two.”
Goalie James Reimer remains off skates for the Leafs and is likely through for the year, with Scrivens slated to make his second start against the Sabres. Jussi Rynnas returned to the Marlies on Monday, with Jonas Gustavsson overcoming a bruised knee and set to back up.
“Coming up at this time of year (with the Leafs eliminated) is not really auspicious,” Scrivens said. “But it’s another game for me and that’s how you look at it. You give the guys a chance to win, that’s all you want.”
The Leafs have never swept Buffalo in a home and home since returning to the Eastern Conference in 1998. But the ninth-place Sabres were gravely wounded in Saturday’s 4-3 loss in Toronto.
“Success 90 miles away, this organization hasn’t had that,” Carlyle said of the Leafs’ closest geographical rivals holding an edge in the lifetime series there, 57-27-6-2. “We have to make sure we’re prepared mentally, because we know they’re going to be fighting for their playoff lives.”
The cut on Grabovski’s leg from a rogue skate blade did not slice into any muscle and Carlyle expects he could be ready for Saturday’s season finale in Montreal. Steckel tried to skate on his small MCL tear on Monday and lasted most of the practice.