From The Star
VANCOUVER—In the handful of days since the Maple Leafs traded captain Dion Phaneuf, head coach Mike Babcock has been putting a positive spin on a less-than-optimal situation.
For an intensely competitive coach who likes nothing more than to celebrate a nightly victory, Toronto’s roster is nightmarishly short on established difference makers. But Babcock has used the state of affairs as motivational fodder.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Babcock has said.
And in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Canucks, he wasn’t kidding. In the first period alone the Maple Leafs’ pair of power-play opportunities were handed over to a list of names a fan wouldn’t automatically associate with man-advantage situations. Brendan Leipsic, 21, was making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up — he got nearly two minutes of power-play run. Colin Greening and Mark Arcobello have spent most of the season in the AHL; they were both featured prominently.
Babcock was effectively saying, “Here’s your NHL moment — seize it.”
Leipsic certainly did. Along with logging those power-play minutes, he scored his first NHL goal, batting what turned out to be the third-period winner into the net with a waist-high swat from the slot.
Arcobello seized the opportunity, too, potting a pair of second-period goals in a span of 17 seconds to help the Maple Leafs snap a three-game losing streak. On a night when the visitors put on a possession-game clinic, doubling the shots-on-goal total of the playoff-hopeful Canucks, 38-19, Leafs veterans Leo Komarov and Brad Boyes scored empty-netters to pad the total.
“That’s a case study in what we’re capable of,” said Rich Clune, another Leaf better known for his work with the Marlies this year, who assisted on Leipsic’s goal. “Getting a win on the road against a highly skilled team like Vancouver — I think we frustrated them, especially early on. I think our work ethic is our key.”
Indeed, for all the minor-leaguers on their bench on Saturday, the Maple Leafs roundly outplayed the Canucks for most of the evening. On the Canucks’ three cracks on the power play, the diligent work of the visitors limited the home team to a combined two shots. Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for the Canucks. But Leipsic’s goal turned out to be the difference.
“Lucky to get a stick on it,” said Leipsic, a 21-year-old Winnipegger acquired a year ago in the trade that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville.
Clune, who played on Leipsic’s line on Saturday, gave it more credit.
“The hand-eye coordination, you can’t fake that,” Clune said. “That’s a legit goal. I’m so proud of him.”
Babcock described the five-foot-nine Leipsic as “a greasy little guy who’s got real good skill level, tenacity about him.” Clune, who played with Leipsic last season in Milwaukee, said Leipsic has been largely overlooked by Leafs Nation because he plays on a team with higher-profile assets like William Nylander and Connor Brown.
“William Nylander’s the number one guy, rightfully so. But (Leipsic) is a legit prospect behind him,” Clune said. “Maybe it’s even been better for him to fly under the radar. Maybe some people don’t see him coming.”
Leipsic, who didn’t get the benefit of a Friday practice given the emergency call-up that saw him arrive in Vancouver Friday night, became the first Leaf to score in his NHL debut since Nikolai Kulemin did it in the 2008-09 season opener in Detroit.
While the Maple Leafs are in full rebuilding mode, the Canucks, still led by the 35-year-old Sedin twins, are firmly entrenched in a playoff race, coming into Saturday’s game three points out of a Western wild-card spot and likely Canada’s best hope for a representative in the Stanley Cup tournament. So Saturday was an untimely moment for a flat performance, to be sure.
But the Leafs, though they came into the contest in sole possession of the NHL basement and hobbled by injuries that kept the likes of Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk out of the lineup, deserved the win. If they played what looked like desperate hockey, perhaps it was because Babcock has acknowledged that, for most of the roster, Toronto-based employment is a tenuous thing with the Feb. 29 trade deadline looming.
With plenty of uncertainty in the air, perhaps Arcobello was in his element. The 27-year-old alumnus of Yale University is a burgeoning journeyman; he has played for five different NHL franchises in his most recent two seasons.
“This is a hard league to play in,” Arcobello said. “When you get an open door, you’ve got to take advantage of it . . . You never know when you’re going to get a chance again.”
It was back in the Brian Burke era that the Maple Leafs’ farm team adopted a marketing slogan: “Every Game is a Tryout.” Such is the state of Leafland that the catchphrase suddenly applies on the NHL team, too.
Source: Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk