If fans thought there would be any rust when Clarkson laced up for his season debut, they’d have to think again. Coming off his 10-game suspension, Clarkson was full of energy and quickly showed Leaf fans what to expect when he’s on the ice.
Clarkson’s line featuring Dave Bolland and Jay McClement was easily Toronto’s best line of the night. The hardworking trio were able to continuously build momentum for the club with their aggressive fore-checking. Columbus’ defensemen struggled to contain the physical play of the trio as the Leaf forwards were able to out-muscle the opposition along the boards routinely. Bolland and Clarkson combined for nine shots in the contest.
Unfortunately for Toronto, they seem to be incapable of dressing their full lineup. Joffrey Lupul was forced to miss the contest after taking a puck off his skate during practice on Thursday. With Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak leading the way offensively on the top line, Lupul and Nazem Kadri have done an excellent job providing secondary scoring regardless of who plays with the duo.
Given how physically dominant Clarkson, McClement and Bolland looked together, once Lupul returns to the lineup, the Leafs could have three game-breaking lines moving forward. Two legitimate scoring lines, along with one impactful in-your-face workhorse line, which will be extremely difficult for the opposition to contain.
Clarkson suiting up for the first time had an instant effect on the rest of the lineup as teammates raised their physical play against the Blue Jackets. Players who don’t normally engage in hitting the opposition were suddenly trying to take a body whenever they could. Following Clarkson’s lead, who was trying to run into anything that dared to touch the puck while he was on the ice, players such as Kadri, Mason Raymond and Carl Gunnarsson were all slamming Blue Jackets into the boards.
With Clarkson now back from suspension, tough guy Frazer McLaren making his season debut after returning from injury and Mark Fraser expected to be back in the next week or two, expect the Leafs to become much more physical heading into November. All three players can dish out big hits, and all three players aren’t afraid to drop the gloves. Along with Colton Orr already in the lineup, Toronto is about to become one of the toughest teams in the league to play against.
Not only will the opposition have to try to slow down the talent on Toronto’s top-two lines, they’ll now have worry about the intimidating presences existing up and down the Maple Leafs lineup.