TORONTO – Mikhail Grabovski always manages to attract attention whenever the Toronto Maple Leafs face the Montreal Canadiens.
But the Leafs’ forward isn’t expecting any retaliation from the Habs on Wednesday night for his role in an alleged biting incident the last time the two rivals met.
“It’s a big game for us,” the Belarusian said. “Nothing special for me.
“It’s just a regular game and regular points.”
There wasn’t anything regular about Toronto’s 6-0 road win over Montreal on Feb. 9. Late in the third period during a scrum, Canadiens’ forward Max Pacioretty grabbed Grabovski from behind, his gloveless right hand wrapped around Grabovski’s mouth and face.
Once the melee was over, a clearly agitated Pacioretty bared his arm to the officials and accused Grabovski of biting him. Both players received 10-minute misconducts with Grabovski also landing a roughing minor.
After the contest, Pacioretty said he received a tetanus shot as a precaution.
Grabovski had a disciplinary hearing with the NHL but wasn’t fined or suspended due to inconclusive evidence.
Montreal (12-4-3) hasn’t looked back, going 6-0-2 since. Defenceman Josh Gorges said following Tuesday’s practice the Canadiens are more concerned about continuing their winning ways than redemption.
“We need two points.” he told the Canadiens’ website. “Yeah, we can look at it like we want revenge because we lost 6-0 but I think our focus has been and needs to continue to be on getting two points.
“Whatever happened yesterday or two weeks before doesn’t matter. We’ll approach (Wednesday’s) game as if it’s the most important game of the year and make sure we’re ready to go out and get two points.”
It’s the same approach Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said his team is taking.
“I think two teams are competing for the two points, that’s got to be the focus of our group,” he said. “They’ve played extremely well, they’re winning a lot of hockey games and getting a lot of points.
“We have to be prepared for their ‘A’ game. All the other stuff is a sidebar as far as we’re concerned. We’re going to focus on playing the game.”
Toronto is 2-0 against Montreal, also winning 2-1 in the season opener Jan. 19 at the Bell Centre. The Leafs (12-8-0) have won three straight at home.
Regardless, though, it doesn’t really matter what’s on the line when these two Original Six clubs square off in their long and storied rivalry.
“When you have two teams that are good teams, it makes for exciting hockey,” said Gorges. “Anytime you play the Leafs, the games are always hard-fought; they’re always tight.
“To have two teams that are playing well and are both good hockey clubs, it adds a little bit more. It makes it fun to play.”
It doesn’t hurt, either, that the five-foot-11, 183-pound Grabovski has a history with Montreal. The Canadiens took the 29-year-old in the fifth round, 150th overall, in the 2004 NHL entry draft.
Grabovski appeared in 27 career games with Montreal, recording three goals and six assists. He helped the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, capture the 2006-’07 Calder Cup.
But the following season Grabovski landed in then head coach Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse for 27 games. He was subsequently dealt to Toronto in July 2008.
In April 2009, Grabovski’s hit on Montreal’s Andrei Markov resulted in the Canadiens defenceman suffering a knee injury that kept him out of the club’s final four regular-season games and its playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
Grabovski also had a very public feud with compatriot and former Canadien Sergei Kostitsyn, now with the Nashville Predators.
So maybe it’s not surprising that Grabovski is frequently a target for Canadiens players and often showered with boos when he plays at the Bell Centre.
However, if the Canadiens want to give him extra attention Wednesday, Grabovski said that will only serve to motivate him more.
“If they play hard against me, I play harder against them,” he said. “We’re going to play hard against this team because we play hard against any team.”
Grabovski has six goals and three assists in 20 games this season, having scored three times in the Leafs’ last four contests.
“With him, it’s about his skating ability,” Carlyle said of Grabovski. “He’s playing, I think, a higher level of work ethic and putting himself first on pucks.
“He’s got to learn to stop more . . . when he stops on pucks and battles and gets loose pucks, a lot of good things start to happen for him and his linemates.”
Carlyle said chances are good forward Colton Orr will play Wednesday after missing three games with a lower-body injury. Carlyle said goaltender James Reimer—out since suffering a knee injury Feb. 11 against Philadelphia—could return Thursday night against the New York Islanders.
But after facing the Islanders, the Leafs don’t play again until Monday against New Jersey. Reimer said the club could decide to err on the side of caution and give Reimer until the Devils’ game to fully recover.
“It’s getting better every day and I was able to do more (Tuesday),” Reimer said. “It’s just a matter of keeping the process going and keep it healing.
“I know Randy is a smart guy and so I’m sure whatever decision he makes will be the right one.”
Forward Mike Brown, forced from Monday night’s 4-2 road win over Philadelphia with a lower-body injury, was on the ice Tuesday but left early.