WASHINGTON D.C. - Korbinian Holzer was not expecting the phone to ring when it did this past Saturday evening.
"I didn't expect it at all," he told TSN.ca. "It was like 11 o'clock at night. I was about to go to bed."
Dave Poulin, the Leafs senior vice-president of hockey operations was on the line. "[He] just said 'we're going to call you back up and we're going to call you back up to play'."
Stepping into the void left by the ailing Carl Gunnarsson - hip injury - Holzer scored the game-winner on Tuesday night in his second game back with the Leafs, logging 20-plus minutes and blocking five shots in a 3-2 Leafs road victory over the Capitals.
"Right now, this is his baptismal," said coach Randy Carlyle of the 24-year-old. "We've got to find out if he can play in the NHL."
With the reliable Gunnarsson on the shelf in the short-term, Holzer, a 2006 draft selection, has an opportunity to answer that question for the organization. "Absolutely," he said. "This is an opportunity that I'm waiting for, like two and a half years now. I'm just [itching] to play. I'm very happy that the coaches put me out there and that they play me a lot."
Admittedly nervous in his first stint with the club earlier this season - he dressed in the home opener against Buffalo - Holzer has appeared more at ease in the two games since being recalled, opportunity opening with the injury to Gunnarsson.
While different players, Holzer was often viewed within the organization as being in the Gunnarsson mold, a safe, effective and inconspicuous defenceman. "The less people notice me the better I think," he acknowledged. "I'm not a flashy player, I never will be probably. I'm just trying to keep it simple; make it hard on the other team to play in my own zone, finish every check and just get the puck as fast as possible into the forwards' hands."
"The big thing for him, I just keep telling him is 'Hey, keep it simple'," said John-Michael Liles, Holzer's partner on defence since the recall. "I think with Gunnar, that's one of the things you can always count on with him, he's just very reliable, very steady. And obviously they're two different players, but Korby's played really solid for us the last couple nights. As long as he keeps it simple, that's the key for him."
1. Scrivens Withstands Pressure
Making his first start in 12 days, Ben Scrivens was not razor-sharp between the pipes, but he made the necessary 22 saves for the Leafs to hang on for the win. "That's what you ask your goaltender," said Carlyle, "to give you a chance to win and I thought [Scrivens] went in there and did that." In his last start on January 24, Scrivens allowed five goals in a loss to the Islanders, one that saw the two teams tied at three entering the final frame. Two weak goals against broke that stalemate and sent Scrivens to the bench. The 26-year-old was able to withstand similar pressures in a tense road atmosphere on Tuesday. "This is a big game for a guy that hasn't played that many in the NHL," Carlyle said of Scrivens, who was making his 16th NHL start. "This is a pretty raucous building, the crowd is noisy, playing against Ovechkin and the Capitals have a lot of firepower; I thought he responded very well for us."
2. Kessel Drought Hits 10 Games
Managing five wins in the first 10 games with not a goal from their top sniper is a rather impressive feat for the Leafs. Phil Kessel did have a pair of assists in Tuesday's win, giving him six for the season, but he failed to find the back of the net yet again. The 25-year-old had just two shots against the Capitals, now 42 shots for the year without a goal to his name.
3. Filling Gunnarsson's Minutes
Gunnarsson (hip) remained out for the third consecutive game on Tuesday as the Leafs look to replace his steady minutes. "Somebody's got to chew it up and it's by committee," Carlyle said on Tuesday morning. "What we've tried to do is tried to cut back on [Mike] Kostka and [Dion] Phaneuf's minutes because we felt that they were getting up there and they're still getting up there. We've got to find a happy medium with the other groupings that we can get them in some situations that are more suited for them to chew some safe minutes for us." While he was able to lean on the Liles-Holzer pair a little bit more on Tuesday - also teaming Holzer with Phaneuf at times - Phaneuf and Kostka still saw heavy action against the Capitals; Phaneuf logged over 28 minutes, Kostka upwards of 25 for the night.
4. Special Teams Troubles
Despite the victory, special teams continue to come undone. For the second consecutive game, the Leafs penalty kill allowed two goals, dropping to 27th overall (71.9%). The power play fared no better, empty in three chances and now with just two goals in the last 30 opportunities, also sitting at 27th best.
5. Road Studs
While their home troubles continued Monday night at the Air Canada Centre in a loss to the Hurricanes, the Leafs continue to get the job done on the road, winning for the fourth time in five games this season. Three of those victories have been by just a goal. "Any win on the road's big," said Liles, "especially coming on the back-end of a back-to-back." Tuesday's effort at the Verizon Center was the third game in four nights for the Leafs and the first notch in a road swing that calls for three games in five nights. "Back on the plane, back on the road," Liles cracked. "The schedule is crazy. You set your bag down in the hotel and all of a sudden you're picking it back up five minutes later and heading out."
Quote of the Night
"Right now, this is his baptismal, we've got to find out if he can play in the NHL."
-Randy Carlyle on Holzer.
Quote of the Night II
"You set your bag down in the hotel and all of a sudden you're picking it back up five minutes later and heading out."
-John-Michael Liles, chuckling about the lockout-shortened 48-game schedule.
60% - Faceoff winning percentage for the Leafs against Washington.
Stat Watch II
52.4% - Faceoff winning percentage for the Leafs this season, good for fifth-best overall.
Stat Watch III
22 - Blocked shots for the Leafs against Washington, led byHolzer with five.
9:34 - Dave Steckel. With the acquisition of Jay McClement and Carlyle's preference for toughness on the fourth unit, Steckel's role has decreased considerably from the latter stages of last season. But on Tuesday, he gave the Leafs safe minutes alongside Leo Komarov and Colton Orr, also winning a critical defensive-zone face-off with 51 seconds remaining in the third and the Leafs nursing a one-goal lead.
The Leafs hit the second leg of a three-game swing on Thursday, landing in Winnipeg for a clash with the Jets at MTS Centre.