Grabovski leads the Leafs over the Senators

 

What started out as a rough night for the Toronto Maple Leafs ended up being a character building (albeit preseason) victory. The Leafs overcame an early 2-0 deficit on the road to defeat the Ottawa Senators 5-3. Rookie Mika Zibanajed and Zach Smith both struck within the first ten minutes of the first period, capitalizing on poor defensive coverage and sloppy rebound control by James Reimer. Mikhail Grabovski's shorthanded two on one wrister seemed to wake the Leafs up and kick started the comeback. 

Down 3-2 after one period of play, Nikolai Kulemin demonstrated his strength and speed by blowing by the Senators defense and jamming home the tying goal. Darryl Boyce tipped in a Cody Franson point shot early in the third for the game winner. Clarke MacArthur added an insurance goal late in the third to seal the come from behind victory. The once considered second best line in the league - Grabovski (1 goal 2 assists), MacArthur (1 goal 1 assist) and Kulemin (1 goal) -  had a dominant performance on the evening. Fans should be optimistic with the fact that this line is picking up right where they left off last season (a season in which all three players had career years). Nike Foligno added the third goal for the Senators, while Robin Lehner was strong in net. 

There was some controversy in the third period when Senators goon Chris Neil stepped into a defenseless Grabovski knocking him down and forcing him to spend some time in the 'quiet room' for observation. What seemed at first blush to be an innocent collision becomes an ugly act after replays clearly show the notoriously dirty Neil identifying the Leaf Centre and shifting into him. Grabovski returned to the game and ended up setting up MacArthur's goal. After the game MacArthur called the move a "cheap shot". Ron Wilson also said that the replays show that Neil knew what he was doing. The Leafs will surely look for supplemental discipline on this matter. 

Cody Franson, Keith Aulie and Luke Schenn continued to struggle, while Carl Gunnarsson (to this point the Leafs best defenseman in the preseason) had an off night as well. Franson hasn't done anything to remove the 'soft' label that followed him from Nashville. At this point all signs point to him being the 7th defenseman to start the season. James Reimer overcame a rough start and provided the Leafs with solid goaltending the rest of the way. Wilson said he was happy with both Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin's game tonight, and that the final two games against the Detroit Red Wings will decide their future. 

Men of the Match 

Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski - The Leafs best forward last season has been the Leafs best forward this preseason. His speed and willingness to head to the dirty areas makes him a tough man to check. The chemistry with MacArthur and Kulemin makes this line a threat on a nightly basis. Like an energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going. 

Senators: Jason Spezza - The Subject of ridiculous trade speculation, Spezza lived up to his reputation as a force offensively and a liability defensively. He created chances all night for his teammates, and was unlucky to score himself after wiring a laser wrist shot off of the crossbar. On a team void of offensive talent, it's up to Spezza to carry the mail this season. 

Next Game: The Leafs head to Detroit Friday night to begin a home and home with the Red Wings.