TORONTO – Mikhail Grabovski is building a pretty strong case to start being considered the top player on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The latest evidence came on a night where his former team wasn’t showing him much love.
Grabovski had a goal and an assist during Toronto’s 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday and clearly drew the ire of ex-teammates Sergei Kostitsyn and Saku Koivu.
Both players went after him during the third period. No one involved seemed too interested in sharing the exact details of what happened, but Habs coach Guy Carbonneau indicated that Grabovski might have said something that got a couple of his former teammates upset.
“I don’t really care about what he thinks or what he said,” said Carbonneau. “He’s playing well. Good for him.”
That’s an understatement.
Grabovski has six goals and two assists in the last four games and seems to have found all kinds of chemistry on a line with Niklas Hagman and Nikolai Kulemin. The skilled Belarussian had three goals in 27 career games with Montreal over the last two seasons and now has seven in 15 games with the Maple Leafs, who acquired him over the summer in a trade.
“He’s been our best player for two weeks,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “He’s been a dominant player. That’s why he’s got seven goals now.”
The 24-year-old is thriving in Toronto, where he’s getting much more of an opportunity than he was able to get on a Habs team with a plethora of skilled forwards.
Grabovski was acquired for a second-round draft pick in 2010 and has so far made Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher look like the winner of that deal. He was gracious when asked about his time in Montreal after Saturday’s game, but Hagman said that his linemate was pretty fired up to prove something to his former team.
“For sure he wanted to show the coach and show the other players on the team that he is a good player,” said Hagman, who scored twice against Montreal. “I think that he did a pretty good job.”
Nik Antropov, Pavel Kubina and Alexei Ponikarovsky also had goals for the Maple Leafs (6-5-4), who outshot an opponent for the 11th straight game and registered their most complete win of the season.
Robert Lang, Tomas Plekanec and Koivu replied for Montreal (8-2-2).
The Habs were playing for the second time in as many nights and weren’t able to match the pace set by the speedy Leafs.
That left Carbonneau in a foul mood. There were many things he didn’t like about the way his team played: “The lack of effort, the lack of concentration, lack of focus, lack of everything.”
The only thing the Maple Leafs were complaining about was a first-period hit by Habs forward Tom Kostopoulos that left Mike Van Ryn with a concussion, broken nose and broken hand. The NHL will certainly be reviewing it.
Kostopoulos slammed Van Ryn into the end boards from behind and was ejected with a major for boarding. Van Ryn lay on the ice for several minutes with a cut on his forehead and is expected to miss a month.
“It was a dirty hit,” said Leafs forward Matt Stajan. “It’s something that can’t happen in the game. Luckily, we made them pay.”
The incident left Kostopoulos visibly shaken. He planned to give Van Ryn a call to apologize.
“I was trying to get in there, get a hit and get the puck,” said Kostopoulos. “Like I said, I didn’t anticipate him turning and I couldn’t stop myself. And I hope he’s all right.”
The Maple Leafs weren’t able to get much going during the ensuing five-minute power play but Hagman converted the only good scoring opportunity they had. Grabovski made a nifty move to get around defenceman Andrei Markov before feeding Hagman at the side of the net for a goal at 8:12.
The lead held until a wild second period that saw each team score three times.
Grabovski ripped a quick shot by former teammate Carey Price to make it 2-0 at 1:48 but was in the penalty box for goaltender interference when Lang got the Habs on the board three minutes later.
Plekanec’s power-play goal at 9:59 tied the score and drew a loud ovation from the large group of Habs fans that were among the 19,512 in attendance at Air Canada Centre.
Hagman and Koivu then traded quick goals before Antropov put the Leafs up 4-3 at 16:27. With Price out of position, the big Kazak took four whacks at the puck in a scrum before finally getting it past Habs defenceman Mike Komisarek.
That goal gave the Leafs a lead heading into the third period for just the fourth time in 15 games this season. They had no trouble holding on.
Toronto now heads out for a tour of Western Canada that will see them make stops in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. There was no better send-off than a win over the rival Canadiens.
“We really wanted that game,” said Stajan. “That’s how we’ve got to play every game, come out with an edge and really take it to them. Even when they came back there, we never gave up.
“You know, we’re proving to everybody – we know in here that we can play with any team in this league. There’s no doubt about it, that’s one of the best teams in the league.”
Notes: Former Leaf and World War II veteran Gaye Stewart read the poem “In Flanders Fields” before the game … Since the NHL lockout, each team has won 13 games against the other … The total number of goals each has scored in those games? Montreal 87, Toronto 87 … The Habs scratched Roman Hamrlik, Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Begin… Jiri Tlusty replaced John Mitchell (shoulder) in Toronto’s lineup … Jonas Frogren, Anton Stralman and Ryan Hollweg sat out for the Maple Leafs.