Korbinian Holzer scored his first NHL goal Tuesday night. (USA Today)It didn’t play out exactly the way Korbinian Holzer dreamed it would. He envisioned dangling through multiple players before scoring his first NHL goal, which of course would have been on a shot that found the top corner.
But Holzer can’t exactly complain as his first goal proved to be the difference for the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. Just over halfway through the second period and with the Leafs leading the Washington Capitals 2-1, Holzer took a cross-ice pass from defenceman Mark Fraser and released a quick slapshot from the point that found its way through the legs of Caps goaltender Michael Neuvirth. The Leafs went on to win 3-2.
“I’m very happy to get the goal and help the team win the game and that’s the most important,” Holzer told a group of reporters after the game Tuesday.
It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for the Leafs who were coming off back-to-back losses heading into Tuesday's tilt with the Capitals. But head coach Randy Carlyle has been able to get – at least for the most part – consistent play from those who had minimal NHL experience heading into the shortened 2013 season.
Tuesday night was only Holzer’s third game as a Leaf this season, so it’s not entirely fair to fully critique his play just yet as the body of work to judge from isn’t big enough. But Mike Kostka, Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri have all been with the Leafs for the majority of the first 10 games this season and all three seem to have earned a spot in the team’s lineup.
Kostka hadn’t played an NHL game prior to this season and is second on the team in ice time while paired with captain Dion Phaneuf. That’s not to say Kostka’s game has been perfect – he and Phaneuf are both a team worst minus-6 – but he’s been someone that Randy Carlyle feels comfortable playing in all situations in place of the absent Jake Gardiner.
Frattin and Kadri, on the other hand, have provided an extra spark for the Leafs on offense, something they’ve needed immensely with Joffrey Lupul injured and Phil Kessel struggling to find the back of the net. Neither player had a point in Tuesday's win, but both are consistently creating offensive opportunities as linemates.
All three players - Kostka, Frattin and Kadri - are products of Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, who has put together an impressive track record with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate. Not only has Eakins helped filter players from the AHL to the NHL, but he’s also managed to keep the Marlies competitive in the process. Eakins’ team currently sits three points back of the North Division-leading Abbotsford Heat. And that’s without the three aforementioned players, starting goaltender Ben Scrivens – who was between the pipes for the Leafs Tuesday – and his leading scorer in Keith Aucoin. The 34-year-old center was waived by the organization just prior to the start of the NHL season and is now a member of the New York Islanders.
The Leafs are often criticized as an organization with very little upside when it comes to prospects and young players. And while they might not have a group of blue-chip prospects, players such as Holzer, Kostka, Frattin and Kadri are doing their best to fill the void.