As one of the premiere pressure cookers of the sporting world, the media in Toronto are experts at bouncing between athletes to question and criticize. Â Phil Kessel’s the first star of the week and leading the league in most offensive categories? Â Sure, they’ll back off the Thrill, with some insidiously mumbled warnings that a slump is impending. Â Phaneuf is playing like a captain, and an elite defender? Â Fine, they’ll throw us a bone every now and then. Â But hey, how about that Grabovski line? Â Then the finger-wagging about depth and consistency begins as one of the league’s best lines from last year has not yet found their stride. Â Although they were getting it done in the preseason, it’s really notÂ surprising that Toronto’s number one line is slow out of the gates.
For starters, Clark MacArthur was thrown out of the loop with his short suspension, disrupting the chemistry the line was establishing in exhibition games. Â Yet while Nikolai Kulemin’s best outing thus far was last night against Colorado, the Russian winger’s game shows the least variance of the three. Â As such, the engine that drives this trio truly is Mikhail Grabovski, with his multifaceted role as the distributing pivot, speedy puck carrier and offensively-creative wizardry. Â It’s also Grabovski’s tendency for ugly Octobers that renders their lack of excellence (for they have not been awful by any stretch of the imagination) unsurprising. Â Last season, the Belarussian had just 4 points (all assists) in 10 October games. Â The first 10 games of November 2010 then saw him tear it up to the tune of 12 points (5 G, 7 A). Â His previous full season with Toronto (in 2008-2009)? Â 2 points in 10 October games. Â Then, with a beastly surge that I can only assume arises from a Halloween candy overdose, Grabovski once again rang up 12 points in the first 10 games of November.
As much as we wish all of our players operated at their best over the course of a full season, the reality is that only the superstars out there can accomplish this feat. Â Grabovski, for whatever reason, wakes up on November 1st and starts playing the type of hockey that made him a fixture on highlight reels last season. Â It may arise from early-season jitters: overthinking the game, rather than relying on more aggressive, baser instincts. Â This was on display during last night’s game, as Mikhail elected to pass off some opportunities that he shouldn’t have. Â This is also reflected in Grabovski’s shot totals, which have been nonexistent in the last few games, a far cry from what amounted to a 3 shots per game average in 2010-2011. Â With all of this in mind, there’s no doubt that this line will set the record straight in due Â time. Â Hopefully it won’t take until November this year, but the hard work and determination that made this trio successful is still their defining strength and the trait that will have all three filling up the scoresheet in weeks to come.