Mikhail Grabovski and the Montreal Canadiens, together again.
A little more than two weeks after the Toronto Maple Leafs went into the Bell Centre and rang up a 6-0 win – part of a game that turned into Bitegate after Habs winger Max Pacioretty claimed Grabovski bit him – the two division rivals are back together again on Wednesday night in Toronto.
There was an absurd amount of media on hand for the morning skates, too, with both dressing rooms stuffed with writers/broadcasters/talking heads looking to tee up a game many expect will be filled with fireworks (i.e. fisticuffs).
There were 29 penalties and 116 penalty minutes handed out in that 6-0 game, including three fights and a pile of misconducts.
It’s pretty clear both teams have been instructed by their coaching staffs to focus on the game as opposed to the funny stuff, especially given the Leafs and Habs are within three points of one another (not to mention Boston and Ottawa sandwiched in between).
Grabovski, however, was willing to offer that he gets “a little bit” more up for games against his former team than others – something evident in the fact he has nearly 30 per cent of his career PIMs (70 in 26 games) against Montreal.
“A couple guys who I played with five years ago – how many years? I forgot – I think they still remember me,” Grabovski said. “And not in a good way. For me, it’s just deal with the situation and I need to be careful on the ice because you never know what’s going to come from that player.”
He didn’t clarify exactly what that meant. (As with most Grabovski quotes, this one is open to interpretation. Interviewing him is like talking to The Riddler sometimes…)
Pacioretty, meanwhile, wasn’t keen to talk about the incident at all, which isn’t a surprise given all the attention on it the past few weeks.
He did say that Grabovski isn’t talked about in the Habs room and doesn’t have much of a connection to the team given he was traded away five years ago – before Pacioretty made the team.
“Hockey’s a tough sport, an emotional sport and they embarrassed us 6-0 in our building and hopefully we can get them back tonight,” Pacioretty said. “Hopefully we can get on the scoreboard and give it to them early.”
This, in other words, isn’t your regular, run-of-the-mill Wednesday night regular season meeting – which is nice after both franchises had such awful seasons a year ago.
The rivalry has a lot more spice to it when there’s more on the line, and with more than 40 per cent of the season in the bag, Montreal and Toronto believe they can vastly improve their positions in the standings over 2011-12.
“There’s not a big separation from the last-place team to the first-place team,” Habs veteran Josh Gorges said. “The difference between first and ninth making the playoffs in the shortened season will be like six points. What’s that? One game a month? One overtime loss every couple of weeks? I mean, that’s the difference.
“In terms of both playing well, both teams in the playoffs, it’s probably been a while. But in terms of Montreal playing the Leafs, for us, these games are always big. You can’t lose to this team and go back to Montreal and feel good. And the same with them.”