Mikhail Grabovski scores two goals and adds an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs squander a three goal lead. Leafs lose in a shootout to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Smith January 31, 2012 2
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Game

The Pittsburgh Penguins came back from a three goal deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs and extended their winning streak to eight games with a 5-4 shootout victory.  The rolling Penguins came out with a really slow start tonight allowing the Leafs to control the tempo.

The scoreless first period was completely dominated by the Leafs forechecking and strong defensive play.  In just the first few minutes of the first period, the Leafs appeared to have scored a goal from a Tyler Bozak backhand.  Marc-Andre Fluery looked to have been knocked over by Joffrey Lupul and the on-ice official immediately disallowed the goal.  The replay showed the official made a serious error in his judgement as Lupul was nowhere near Fluery.  The NHL should be embarrassed by this type of poor officiating.  This type of call by the official reiterates the need to offer  a “Video Review” option for the coach.  The National Football League does not allow their games to be decided by human error, why should the NHL?

The Bench

Mikhail Grabovski celebrated his 28th birthday today with two goals and a helper.  Grabovski in the middle of a swirling trade wind, played like a man on a mission tonight.  His ability to control the puck when he enters the offensive zone would be an asset any team in the NHL would want.  I hope he ends up staying with the Leafs and not being traded.  Time will tell.

Dion Phaneuf had a great game tonight and I can’t help but think he is making a difference both on and off the ice with his play.  It seems that in games that Phaneuf shines, the better Luke Schenn seems to play.  It just might be the leadership Phaneuf is showing that is sparking Schenn to play with more confidence.  The constant trade talk that surrounds Luke Schenn also might be pushing him to find his game again.  Whichever the case, it seems to be working.

With one weak goal out of the four scored against him tonight, Jonas Gustavsson looked really solid in nets tonight.  I thought he closed out the game and made a few great saves to get the Leafs into a position in overtime to scoop a point or two for the standings.  If Gustavsson lets in that late goal instead of the big toe save; this blog is about two valuable playoff points out the window.

Decision Time

Forward Colby Armstrong and Defenceman John-Michael Liles are ready to return to action, having recovered from concussion and neck injuries respectively.  This means with a possible return date of Wednesday night in Toronto, coach Ron Wilson has some line shuffling and decisions to make.  This team is in the moment right now and seems to be clicking and finding all the necessary chemistry to win games.  This is always the biggest opportunity a team has to take a step forward or backwards when two players enter the line up from injury at the same time.

Colby Armstrong missed 23 games with a high ankle sprain earlier this season. Armstrong returned to the line-up in mid-December but suffered a concussion in a game against the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 19th.  He tried to hide his symptoms and injury from the team but eventually raised eyebrows when he found himself getting sick and feeling dizzy in the dressing room.  I think Armstrong is a great player and the Leafs will do well to have him out there making room for other players with his physical style.  The concussion is the only thing that makes me worry he will pull his foot off the pedal when it comes to his big physical presence.  It will be interesting to see if Armstrong will take any of that big hitting away from his own game in order to self-preserve.

Penguins and Leafs rematch tomorrow night.

3 Stars

Dion Phaneuf

Mikhail Grabovski

Clarke MacArthur