The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a torrid start again to start out the season. With injured stars Tim Connolly, Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong on the shelf, the Leafs delivered an inspiring performance Saturday night to win the sloppy affair with the Montreal Canadiens, 5-4, in overtime.
The game-winning goal was scored by Mikhail Grabovski, who simply scored the goal of the season thus far for the Leafs. Highlight reel after highlight reel goals were scored last year by Grabovski, but none of them were scored in overtime, against the team that gave up on you. For Grabovski, it was probably the goal that means the most to him thus far.
The Leafs have started out 5-1-1 and are Canada's top team. A pretty good start to say the least, given their injury troubles thus far.
They stand as one of the younger clubs in the NHL, but still have one of the deepest clubs in the league. Not only does their depth shine at the NHL level, but at the minor league level, the Toronto Marlies are off to a similar 4-1-1 start.
Led by head coach Dallas Eakins, the Baby Leafs have started to open some eyes across the league and boast one of the best one-two goalie combinations in the league featuring Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas, as well as one of the deeper defensive corps, along with a pretty decent set of forwards.
What makes the Marlies a team for Leaf fans to watch out for is not only are most of them your future Maple Leafs, but they play a style of hockey conducive to winning hockey. They're decent offensively, but defensively and in net they're strong. Not only that, but the teams special teams the Marlies have are certainly more effective than they're older brothers so to speak, who play out of the Air Canada Center.
With the said, so far there have been five standout performers thus far this season with the Marlies.
C Joe Colborne
2011-12 Stats: five goals, seven assists, 12 points in six games.
So far, so good for the 6'5", 215-pound center, who was acquired by the Leafs in arguably Boston's payback trade that saw them acquire former Leaf Tomas Kaberle for Colborne, a 2011 first-round pick (Stuart Percy) and a conditional second-round pick in 2012 (eventually was used to acquire John-Michael Liles).
Colborne's progression could force Toronto's hand either later this season, or heading into next season. His combination of size, skill, and head for the game could make him a candidate down the road to center a line with Phil Kessel.
RW Joey Crabb
2011-12 Stats: six goals, six assists, 12 points in six games.
Joey Crabb was one of Toronto's last forward cuts and he's really making Leafs management second guess its decision to demote him and risk losing him via waivers. Given this wonderful start, its fair to say the next time he is called up, he should be here to stay, because he'll be scooped up if he's sent back down.
C Mike Zigomanis
2011-12 Stats: two goals, seven assists, nine points in six games.
Don Cherry's favorite Leaf, and personally, my favorite Toronto Marlie, Zigomanis is a professional in the truest sense of the word. He took his demotion in stride and decided he wanted to become the go-to player for the young Marlies for advice and leadership this season.
Zigomanis isn't an offensive player to say the least, but he's a beast in the faceoff circle and is a very good penalty killer, both in the AHL and NHL.
What made no sense to me was why this guy wasn't up with the Leafs in the first place. Before the acquisition of David Steckel, the Leafs severely lacked a face-off specialist. With Steckel in the line-up, he gives the Leafs a fighting chance on the penalty kill, when usually they would lose a draw and eventually give up a power-play goal.
Despite still having Steckel, I want Zigomanis on the Leafs in some way; if they have to make a trade to accommodate him, then by all means do it. His face-off skill and team play fits into the Leafs top six, bottom six concept that GM Brian Burke likes to employ.
D Matt Lashoff
2011-12 Stats: one goal, 4 assists, five points in six games, +4 rating.
Lashoff was among the last defensive cuts at training camp this year. Among the nine NHL ready defensemen, Lashoff was sent to the AHL, but not because he didn't deserve to be an NHL defenseman, he was just lost in the numbers and was demoted because there were seven better defenseman according to Ron Wilson and his coaching staff.
Lashoff has led the Marlies defense to a North Division lead of 4-1-1, and his presence along with Jeff Finger really does give the Marlies some veteran experience on an inexperienced young core of defence that includes struggling defender Keith Aulie (zero points through six games, minus-5 rating), Simon Gysbers, Jesse Blacker, Juraj Mikus, and Korbinian Holzer.
LW/RW Marcel Mueller
2011-12 Stats: one goal, three assists for four points in six games, plus-4 rating.
Mueller has really started to come into his own this season for the Marlies. A slow start to his North American career, Mueller needed to get used to the North American style of hockey and a new lifestyle in Toronto.
Mueller struggled to keep up with the speed of the game, both at the NHL and AHL levels this season, but so far this year, he's adjusted himself pretty well. He's played both ends of the rink very well, and at 6'4" 235 pounds, he stands to be a pretty intimidating presence down low for the Leafs in the near future. His game is similar to Dustin Penner, so watch out for Mueller down the road.
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