TORONTO – While Toronto’s 8-6 win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday won’t do much to change the Maple Leafs’ fortunes this year, the team can be encouraged by the performance of a rookie corps expected to put up solid offensive numbers in the future.
Rookies Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell combined to score four of the Toronto goals, while another freshman, defenceman Luke Schenn, notched the first multi-point game of his career with two assists.
“The Grabovski line was probably our best line all night,” said Leaf coach Ron Wilson. “They did a lot of good things without the puck. Grabo was involved at both ends of the rink, Kulie got his legs going and got into the forecheck and so did Poni.”
Grabovski netted a pair of goals and added one assist and was actually credited with a hat trick before league officials awarded one of his goals to Kulemin.
For the young Belarussian, the English language proved more challenging to stickhandle around than the Flames defence on this night.
“I’m very happy,” said Grabovski. “Every guy played good today and my line played awesome. We quickly moved the puck and we just shoot and score.”
It was an unexpected outburst for a team that had scored just 10 times in its last six games (2-3-1).
Mitchell, who had a goal and an assist, said it was exciting for the Toronto youth brigade to lift the team’s attack, which has sputtered since veterans Dominic Moore and Nik Antropov were moved at the trade deadline.
“It’s obviously an opportunity for younger players to play in key situations in big games,” Mitchell said.
The Leafs also got key contributions from more seasoned players on a night when it seemed like anyone and everyone had a chance to score. Jason Blake scored for the first time in 11 games, defenceman Jeff Finger and rugged forward Jamal Mayers each counted their fifth goal of the season and recent pickup Jeff Hamilton scored his first as a Leaf.
Meanwhile, longtime Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky had four assists, joining with Grabovski and Kulemin to form Toronto’s most effective forward unit.
In the wake of the offensive explosion, the fact that Toronto’s defensive inconsistency led to six goals against was almost forgotten.
“We don’t want to let in six goals,” said Mitchell. “But if we can score eight I guess that’s okay.”