Canadiens goalie Carey Price tries to clear his crease of Mikhail Grabovski.
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images Sport
TORONTO – Toronto Maple Leafs centreman Mikhail Grabovski was laying in the corner of the rink in the final moments of tonight’s 6-3 victory over the Canadiens, having been belted to the ice. Standing above him, animated in speech, was Montreal captain Saku Koivu.
Grabovski had just rumbled with Canadiens’ Sergei Kostitsyn, the two having sparred then yapped, Kostitsyn clearly agitated and more than eager to get it on.
Linesmen prevented that, but now Grabovski was flat out with Koivu looming over him.
So what pleasantries were exchanged?
"He gave Mikhail some special advice," said Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, serving as Grabovski’s Russian dressing-room translator. "Koivu told him something, but (Grabovski) doesn’t want to say. Just some special advice he’ll use in the future."
The possibilities there are limitless, given that Grabovski, a Canadien last season who quietly was shipped to Toronto in July, had scored a goal, assisted on another, twice steamrolled Montreal goalie Carey Price and pretty much had the run of the ice in the Maple Leafs’ Air Canada Centre cakewalk.
There was no apparent sarcasm in Grabovski’s words about Koivu. He offered a little more, which Ponikarovsky translated thus:
"(Grabovski) respects Koivu and he’s the only guy in the Montreal room he respect. He thinks Koivu is a super special guy and hockey player. He just doesn’t pay attention to the rest of them."
Grabovski’s goal, which put Toronto up 2-0 early in the second period, was his seventh of the season. His assist, coming when he neatly undressed usually impenetrable defenceman Andrei Markov, gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead on Niklas Hagman’s first of two goals.
Clearly, Grabovski has found favour with the Toronto coaching staff that he didn’t enjoy in 24 games with the Canadiens last year.
Montreal shipped him to Toronto for prospect Greg Pateryn and a 2010 second-round draft pick, amid rumours that his dressing-room presence and work ethic left more than a little to be desired.
The page has since been turned by both sides, and now Grabovski is flourishing with the ice time and confidence that’s being shown him.
"The Canadiens knew what they had in Mikhail, but you have to find room for people," Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "They have an unbelievable group of forwards over there, so much skill. He probably wasn’t going to get a fair opportunity.
"A guy like that needs to play 17, 18 minutes to be effective," he added, having given Grabovski 17:18 last night. "He’s in a real good rhythm now, and he’s been our best player for two weeks. I’m really happy for him to play like that against Montreal."
If Grabovski was taking special delight in playing a large role in the defeat of the Canadiens, he wasn’t letting on. He said he got a bigger kick out of the first game of the season, a 3-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
"I played very hard (last night) and got satisfaction from the game because it was tense and I like to beat my old team. I had lots of motivation," he said through Ponikarovsky.
"I wasn’t playing too much in Montreal, but I was always positive and knew I could play at this level. The coaching staff here believe in me and give me lots of ice time. I prepared during the summer by working out a lot to be ready for the season, and I think I’ ve earned the ice time I’m getting now."
Grabovski overshadowed the Leafs’ prime youngster, 19-year-old defenceman Luke Schenn, who had a game-high five hits and a healthy 24:28 in ice time. Schenn finished the night at plus-one.