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Siegel: Grabovski quietly surging for Maple Leafs

Jonas Siegel
1/6/2012 10:02:46 AM
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 TORONTO - A little advice was all Mikhail Grabovski needed to turn his season around.

The 27-year-old scored his 12th goal of the season on Thursday night, also adding an assist as the Leafs blanked the Jets by a 4-0 final at the ACC. Grabovski now has five goals and 10 points in the last 10 games, jump-starting a season (23 points) that kicked off in rather timid fashion.

Heeding the words of Leaf assistant coaches Rob Zettler and Scott Gordon recently, Grabovski focused his efforts on improving defensively, knowing that a spark in offence was likely to follow.

"I talk a little bit about with coach about my game and start to play like I play last year," Grabovski told the Leaf Report. "If I work defensively I always have chances [on] offence…That's the key I think for me. If I play defensively good I can play offensively better."

Grabovski had just six goals and 11 points through the opening 20 games this season, only occasionally resembling the player who broke out with 29 goals and 58 points a year ago. Lacking chemistry from the get-go with long-time linemates Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur, Grabovski has re-emerged in the last few weeks with Matt Frattin and more recently Joey Crabb, filling MacArthur's void on the left side.

"He's obviously getting some results," Ron Wilson said, "but the big thing with Grabo is he's digging in down lower and closer to our D, helping out defensively, so we spend less time in our end and he gets the puck and is able to make some attack plays."

The Leafs have relied on the ever-present production of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, rarely finding a consistent second unit to balance that attack. Grabovski's quiet resurgence could help change that.

Five Points

1. It took just over two years, but Jonas Gustavsson finally earned his second NHL shutout on Thursday night, stopping 24 shots for his 11th win this season. Gustavsson's first and only other shutout took place on December 19th, 2009 (his rookie season), a 2-0 blanking of the Bruins. "Of course I knew it was a while ago." Gustavsson said. "Of course it's good. It's not bad. But it's not like I'm going to feel like I'm going to have a shutout next game just because of this. You need the team to help you out, you need to be lucky a couple times with the bounces and so on, but I guess it's a good sign that you did something right."

"He was solid, like very professional tonight," added Wilson. "He didn't give up very many rebounds, especially in the situations where the shots were coming from the point. I think he did a really good job of handling some of the pucks when he needed to. And when we were running around there a little bit the last four or five minutes of the second period he made some very just easy saves and froze the puck for us."

2. The 27-year-old refrained from watching the clock as the shutout drew within reach. "To be honest, I tried to stay out of that, to not look at the clock because then it's hard to keep focused," he said. "The last 10 minutes I didn't look at the clock once so it was kind of nice when they said it was one minute left."

3. Tim Connolly continues to click with Kessel and Lupul on the Leafs top line, chipping in with his 7th goal and an assist on Thursday night. The 30-year-old has five points in three games since rejoining the pair, minding the gap for the injured Tyler Bozak. "No matter who they've been playing with they've been doing a good job offensively all year," Connolly said. "I'm just trying to go out there, fill in for Bozak, get those guys the puck and do the little things."

Connolly was the driving force behind Kessel's 23rd goal of the season, winning a puck battle with Johhny Oduya behind the net before dishing to Lupul who then found Kessel in front. "You're just seeing a player with similar skills who has a little bit more experience than Bozie," Wilson said.

4. For the first time since mid-November, the Leafs have gone consecutive games without allowing a powerplay goal, stopping the Jets in their one and only opportunity. "Our percentage is what it is, but it's the New Year," Dave Steckel told the Leaf Report, prior to the game. "If we're going to build as a team and improve as a group we have to say 'Alright, enough is enough. We're going to go from this point on, we're going to do a couple things different and let's work on that because that's going to be what our identity is now'; almost like a rebirth of our PK. I'm sure we're going to have some slipups here or there, but at the same token we're trying to make playoffs and we're trying to make our PK ready for that." The Leafs last went back-to-back games with a perfect PK on November 17-19 (a combined 8-8 in a split with Nashville and Washington).

5. Kessel stretched his point streak to seven games (four goals, seven points) with a goal for the third straight game. Earlier in the day, Dion Phaneuf was named to the All-Star team, a distinction that will very likely come the way of Kessel and his linemate, Lupul. "If we go it's a great honour, but who knows right," Kessel said, before the game. The 24-year-old is tied for second in the NHL in goals (23) and points (46), still yet to go consecutive games without hitting the scoresheet.

Bonus Points

A victim of mild goal support last season, Gustavsson has seen plenty of offence this fall; the Leafs have scored 55 goals in his 11 wins…Wilson rolled four lines effectively vs. the Jets. Lupul topped the team in ice-time at 18:50 with Matt Frattin clocking in on the low-end at 11:48...The team-leader in plus/minus in December (plus-6), Cody Franson was plus-2 with an assist on Thursday night in nearly 18 minutes...Clarke MacArthur extended his point streak to seven games (three goals, eight points), notching his 12th goal of the season...Kessel and Lupul have scored at least a point in 32 of 40 games this season…The Leafs improved to a plus-10 goal differential at even-strength, ninth best in the NHL.

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