David Clarkson claims the win is what counts the most, but there is no denying he got a huge monkey off his back with his first for the
Toronto Maple Leafs in their 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old Mimico native, who signed a seven-year-contract with the Maple Leafs last summer and then sat out the first 10 games of the year on a suspension followed by 10 more games without a goal, drilled home a beauty -- a snap shot to the far corner -- as Toronto beat the New York Islanders 5-2.
A life-long Maple Leafs fan, Clarkson was asked if that is how he dreamed of scoring his first goal for Toronto when he was a kid.
"I don't know if that really went through my head," Clarkson said. "The biggest thing is we won the game. I tried to preach the whole time that the chances were there, but I'm here to win. Yeah, it does feel good to get some people off my back, but it's all part of the game; when you are getting chances it's eventually going to come. The big thing is as a team we did some good things tonight."
Clarkson was brought to town to be a leader on a team that is hoping to build on a strong playoff appearance last season. He was productive as a member of the New Jersey Devils, but got a lot more power play time with that team. In Toronto it is his toughness and leadership that are key qualities.
"I was not brought here to be a 50-goal scorer," he said. "I'm going to get my chances and bear down when I need to, but the big thing is winning games. I came here to win and we have a great group of guys here and I'm glad to be a part of this."
If Clarkson wasn't outwardly overwhelmed by his first goal for the Maple Leafs, his teammates were quite happy for him. James van Riemsdyk knows what it is like to go through a slump, having failed to score in his first 21 games as a sophomore with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"It was a hell of a shot," van Riemsdyk said. "He has been contributing in different ways for us and it was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal. I'm sure he's pretty happy for him."
Right-winger Phil Kessel missed practice Monday because of the flu, but returned with a two-goal performance against the Islanders that leaves him with 12 goals in 21 games. He also reached the 400-point plateau for his career.
"I felt alright," Kessel said. Two days off is alright, so you know, I felt okay. I had been sick for a while and I really wasn't feeling well yesterday."
Kessel's second goal came on a two-on-one in which he was carrying the puck and elected to shoot instead of pass. Toronto coach Randy Carlyle has been preaching to his team to shoot more often and Kessel was asked if he heard the coach's voice in his head as he was approaching the New York net.
"Definitely not Randy's voice," Kessel said. "I wanted to pass, but I had an open shot."
Van Riemsdyk was wowed by Kessel's production.
"He's a hell of a hockey player and doesn't need many chances to score," van Riemsdyk proclaimed. "He had two pretty sweet releases there."
Kessel was asked about hitting the 400-point mark and said, "I forgot until they told me about it. It's nice. I guess I've been in the league for a while now."
The Maple Leafs are now 13-7-1, but Kessel said they are not satisfied with their play.
"We can always improve, right?" Kessel said. "Maybe not give up as many shots and keep creating chances and bury the puck."
Smith giveth and giveth away
Toronto centre Trevor Smith opened the scoring 22 seconds into the game after taking a nice feed from left-winger Joffrey Lupul. So how did he celebrate the goal? Later in the period, with the Maple Leafs stuck in their own zone, he broke the eighth commandment of hockey when he made a slow pass up the middle that was picked off and turned into an Islanders' scoring chance. Fred Shero, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year, once said, "The first thing they teach you in hockey is not to pass the puck up the middle. Then they teach you how to skate."
Smith wound up playing a solid game adding two assists for a three-point night.
Franson coughs it up
With time running out in the second period and his team holding a 2-0 lead, veteran defenceman Cody Franson of Toronto fired a slap shot into the pads of the Islanders Casey Cizikas. The Toronto native broke away and scored on a deke with 11.5 seconds left on the clock.
Nikolai Kulemin delivered the hardest hit of the game on none other than Islanders captain John Tavares at 5:35 of the second period. He drove Tavares hard into linesman Don Henderson.
Maple Leafs defenceman Paul Ranger dropped to block a shot at 14:16 of the second period and took it off the side of the face.
Kadri set to return
Centre Nazem Kadri has completed his three-game suspension and will return to practice Wedenesday and then return to the lineup when Toronto hosts Nashville Thursday night. Kadri was suspended three games for bumping Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom. Kadri put his team behind the eight ball with the suspension since fellow centres David Bolland and Tyler Bozak were already out of the lineup with injuries.
Finn is in
The Maple Leafs signed 19-year-old defenceman Matt Finn to a three-year entry level contract Tuesday. The 35th pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Finn has five goals and 20 points with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League this season. He was named the league's top defenceman in October and will represent Team OHL against Team Russia for the second straight year. Finn has 21 goals and 120 points with 125 penalty minutes in 183 career games with Guelph.
Marlies to host Swedes
The AHL Toronto Marlies will host Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League in an exhibition game Feb. 15 at 3 p.m. at Ricoh Coliseum. Frarjestad is one of the most successful European franchises having played in 19 league fijnals and won nine Swedish league championships.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.