PITTSBURGH – Randy Carlyle is looking to stoke a fire under a player who is typically full of fury.
The Leafs head coach had an up-front conversation with Mikhail Grabovski at the tail-end of Wednesday's morning skate at Consol Energy Center, impressing upon him the need for increased tenacity or a return to his usual form. "He has to play with more fire and more of his natural personality versus what we're seeing now," Carlyle said. "In his defence, he's just trying to be cautious and be in the right place at the right time ... [But] the reality for him is that we need more fire and more nastiness from him."
"I need to put gas in my tank," Grabovski agreed, his usual wit still in fine form.
The Leafs highest-paid forward has yet to hit the scoresheet in two games this season and has yet to actually even attempt a shot. "I need more shots to the net," he acknowledged Wednesday morning, "you can't score if you don't shoot so that's my key for tonight."
Typically full of bite, Grabovski has been missing the requisite jump to his step in the early going this year. His line – which had included Nik Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur – has been charged with shutting down opposing top units, and is still expected to play a prominent role offensively. While still early, that pop has been sporadic and the usual defensive sturdiness just a tad off; the Sabres scored both goals in a 2-1 win with Grabovski's line on the ice.
Carlyle has been refreshingly honest with his expectations for individuals in the early stages of his Toronto tenure, requesting more jam from James van Riemsdyk just a day earlier. On Wednesday, he'll likely task Grabovski and his linemates – van Riemsdyk may join the unit with Kulemin – with slowing one of Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, as great a challenge as there is in the game today. "They're great players and I really enjoy playing against these players," Grabovski said, "but it's really hard to play against these players.
"For me, we'll have [a] lot of chances to score goals against these lines because they think about offence always."
Last year, Grabovski topped the 20-goal mark for the third time in his career, also adding 28 assists for a 51-point campaign. In March, he agreed to a five-year extension with the Leafs, a contract that began this season.
"I feel good," he concluded, "but I need more fire. Fire burn the ice."