I know what you are thinking.
You watched Nazem Kadri
Tuesday as the Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3.
Let’s get the standings over with. The Leafs are now five points behind the Sabres with five to play and need to run the table to think about squeaking into the eighth and final Eastern playoff spot.
A win Thursday in Boston and another Saturday in Ottawa combined with a Buffalo freefall would make it interesting. Not assured, just interesting.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he doesn’t worry about the math. “There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “We’re going to try to win all our games. If we don’t make it, we don’t make it.”
In lieu of that, let’s address the future.
Maybe it has a new name: Nazem Kadri
There has been much hullabaloo about Kadri until now for no overwhelming reason. But you should know in the win over Buffalo, Kadri played his 25th NHL game. That’s the ceiling for the Calder Trophy. As far as the NHL’s top rookie honour goes, Kadri is no longer eligible which makes sense since he looked nothing like a greenhorn.
Next year Nazem Kadri
will be a 21-year-old former first rounder with 44 games in the Dallas Eakins finishing school. Should the Marlies survive an unholy war to advance into the post-season, Kadri will have a little more green washed off him.
So, if Nazem Kadri
puts on a little more finish and a few more pounds, what do the Leafs have?
An emerging third line winger. Maybe a second-line guy.
I know, it’s one game but they don’t let them play more than one at a time. And if you examine his very slender but emerging body of work through a whole seven games you find a player who has two goals and three assists, a player who is plus two, a player, undersized or not, who often looked very much like the most potent Leaf Tuesday. He has a good motor, a subcompact frame and an imagination the size of a diesel. He was on the ice for the critical moments of last night’s win.
“He’s got a bit more confidence,” Wilson said. “In watching him, I think he’s better suited to playing the wing. He has learned his lessons well. He’s good at getting the puck out, he’s slippery and he’s capable of making a defensive play.”
Kadri produced two sterling assists and showed there is no quarter he can’t skate into or out of.
Of course, that and a $1.25 buys you something warm from Tim’s. But while the present has been more than satisfactory, the prospect of next season is most engaging. Carl Gunnarsson
, Clarke MacArthur
, Nikolai Kulemin
, Keith Aulie, Mikhail Grabovski
and James Reimer
have played their way into a prominent position this season. Now, Kadri looks to be doing the same. The long swoops in his defensive zone are gone. He gets to more pucks and deftly handles pucks rimmed around the boards.
“I’ve always made decisions at high speed,” said Kadri “and I feel I am able to do that now. It just seems like my decision-making is getting a lot better.”
A minute into the game, Dion Phaneuf
gathered the puck at his own blue-line, crossed the Buffalo blue and fired a hard shot that did not touch a hint of leather, artificial or otherwise, before hitting net behind Ryan Miller.
The shot may have been screened but Phaneuf scotched the idea that his eighth goal was a fluke.
“I don’t have a lot to say,” Phaneuf said. “I got all of it and it counted.”
Kadri was instrumental in the Leafs second goal, veering to the net and leaving the puck for Darryl Boyce to knock home.
Wilson, who takes pride in his ability to intuit within a couple of shifts if a player will produce switched Kadri to the number one line with Joffrey Lupul
and Phil Kessel
The Leafs went up 3-1 when Kadri grabbed a quiet shift and shook it, dashing into open ice, veering toward the net and finding Clarke MacArthur
The Sabres tied it on two sloppy plays that resulted in goals.
The Sabres pulled to one when Pominville found some room in front of the net, thanks to a pass from Tim Connolly
Rob Niedermayer was gifted with his fifth when a rolling puck eluded Gunnarsson allowing the Buffalo veteran to beat Toronto goalie James Reimer
Grabovski finished off a dazzling passing play from Phil Kessel
and MacArthur for the winning goal in the second.
Reimer stopped 28 of 31 shots. The Leafs directed 35 at Miller but could not score a power play goal in eight minutes worth of advantages.
The Leafs play in Boston Thursday and then off to Ottawa for a face-off with the Senators.