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The Grinders Are Getting It Done

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

Among the noticeable changes for the Maple Leafs through the first six games has been the forecheck this team has shown with its depth. The most effective line out on the ice has seen fan favourite Leo Komarov alongside Mike Santorelli and David Clarkson.

“That group has created more scoring chances than any other line on our hockey club right now,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said following the team’s Monday practice. “It’s showing up on the scoresheet and it’s showing up on the video.”

All three players logged a season high in ice time during Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss in Detroit. They also developed a chemistry that is effective in neutralizing the opposition.

While the trio came across a countless amount of opportunities in the season so far, the line has scored only twice.

“We're probably not the best goal scorers on this team,” Komarov admitted, pointing to guys like Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. “We want to score goals and help the team play the best way we can and help the team to win games.”

While the lack of goal production could be a concern to some, the coach’s emphasis on defence is allowing this line to accomplish the club’s main priority: Limiting the opposing team’s opportunities at your own side of the ice.

“The best way to nullify the opposition's top players is to force them to play defence. It’s as simple as that,” Carlyle said. “Five-on-five, if you can force them to play more defence than they would normally do than they have done their job.”

For Clarkson, he’s showing the effectiveness to his game that the Leafs were seeking when they signed him to a seven-year deal in the summer of 2013.

“I feel healthy, I feel like myself and everything is kind of going back to the way I was playing in Jersey,” he said. “Being able to start on the right foot and not have the elbow thing or foot thing or everything else, I think it really makes a difference.”

Clarkson, along with his linemates, are carrying the course of play in the opposition’s zone. Clarkson and Komarov bring the physicality, while Santorelli provides speed. The cycle has been effective for this line, something the Leafs’ newest centre focused on during training camp.

“That’s an area that I have been trying to improve and still trying to,” said Santorelli. “You look at the best players in the league and they are really good down low.”

It is expected that Carlyle will consider increasing the trio’s minutes. That began in Detroit, but the game plan switched as the Red Wings used the last change to their advantage.

As their ice time increases, the pressure to score more goals will mount for the team’s grind line. But right now, it’s not a concern for their coach.

“They’ll score their fair share of goals. But the most devastating effect on that has been Leo Komarov,” said Carlyle. “A lot of times a player like Leo goes by the wayside and he doesn’t get the recognition. But if you count the hits and the energy he brings night in and night out he’s made a large contribution. It seems like the three of them fit together and they know where one another is and have found some chemistry early.”

Komarov has been a popular figure among his teammates both on and off the ice. His colourful personality won him over with fans. He’s helped make everyone around him better and it shows.

Power-play opportunities

The Maple Leafs are currently in a tie for the lead in power-play opportunities with 24, which is mostly because of Nazem Kadri’s ability to draw penalties. He’s among the league leaders in this category.

“I just try to move my feet,” said Kadri, who relishes the opportunity to get some power-play time. “I think I’m elusive down low and I’m a shifty hockey player. In the corners it’s a little tougher to contain when you don’t know which way you are going. It’s just a matter of hard work and moving your feet.”

Kozun out, Booth on the mend

Randy Carlyle confirmed earlier fears about forward Brandon Kozun, who will be sidelined for a minimum of six weeks. The good news is it appears as though David Booth is on the mend and could return to the ice at some point.

“Booth is in a walking boot and off crutches so he’s starting to make his way back inch-by-inch,” said Carlyle. “He’s been here, spending a lot of time in the weight room on a daily basis.”

Booth has been out since September 28th after suffering a fracture in his foot.

Leafs lines at practice

JVR-Bozak-Kessel

Lupul-Kadri-Winnik

Komarov-Santorelli-Clarkson

Frattin-Holland-Panik, extra Ashton.

Defence

Phaneuf-Franson

Rielly-Polak

Gardiner-Robidas

Percy

Goalies

Bernier

Reimer.

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