I have no particular insight into what Mikhail Grabovski might be feeling upon his return to Toronto, the ACC and a matchup against his most recent ex-employer, the Toronto Maple Leafs. But we don’t need to be especially attuned to the psyche of highly scrutinized (and highly-strung) professional athletes to assume he is pumped up for this one.
Those who have visited here through the years well know that I was slow to warm up to the former Leaf pivot. But over time I came to admire and very much like his sometimes-feisty style of play and the overall contribution he made to the blue and white. (Need I mention the famous game in Boston, the non-concussion, a gorgeous winning goal…)
That he did not, ultimately, seem to fit the precise roster spot picture that Randy Carlyle wanted from him does not diminish my feelings toward Grabbo. He was a courageous Leaf and did some good things here. As with most guys who leave the Leaf nest, I’m happy if they do well elsewhere. (He did leave, we must acknowledge, with a very public near-tirade about Carlyle, which is part of the equation here, clearly.)
One thing I will say is this: if Grabbo plays Saturday as he did in his early games against his first former club—the hated Habs of Montreal—he will struggle against the Leafs Saturday night because he will be too amped up. In those early Leaf days, he seemed to have such a dislike for the Kostitsyns (or whatever his personal issue was with the Canadiens) that he was simply not that effective at times.
As time went on he, at least to me, seemed to harness his energy and thus became a much more impactful player against the Montrealers.
By all accounts he is in a happy place right now. His ex-Leaf teammates have spoken generally glowingly—and fondly—about him. He started out brilliantly in his first two games with the Capitals this season, then slowed down considerably for a time. However, he has put up points at a pretty steady clip of late, and I have no doubt he is primed for a solid game against the Leafs.
For me, this all just adds some zest to what can be a sometimes long and occasionally dreary NHL season, with a lot of games that simply lack much in the way of adrenaline, intensity or suspense. (As someone posted here after the Nashville game, they changed channels midway through the third period. And sometimes the Leafs are big contributors to a snore-fest.)
In any event, Ovechkin alone (back playing with his old time dash it seems) would make this game a must-watch event. The presence of Grabovski just heightens to drama—which is not bad for a late November game.
Will Grabbo make a statement Saturday night? You tell me…