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Spending the night focusing on Kadri in New Jersey

After his brief two-game press-box detour, I thought I would spend Sunday night focusing on young Nazem Kadri in the Leafs’ first post-Christmas game on a snowy night in the Meadowlands.

I did this because I realize that, like many fans, I sometimes don’t spend enough time really focusing on what particular individuals are doing.  I tend to look at the squad’s overall effort and tendencies.  So I wanted to watch the 20 year-old to see what he brought to the table against a struggling Devils’ side, especially after his two-game absence from the line-up.

We all know that Kadri has been the subject of intense scrutiny in Leaf world as Burke’s number one draft choice in the summer of 2009.  Expectations seemed to be that he would make the Leaf roster out of camp this fall, but he didn’t.

Nonetheless he earned a (if somewhat premature and desperate) promotion after a fairly productive stint with the Marlies.  He was impressive in his early days with the Leafs, as fans got a glimpse of his vision and playmaking skills.  While he didn’t score, he did earn some assists and also managed a shootout beauty and things looked, if not rosy, well, good.

Of late, he has been a bit less noticeable on the ice, and that perhaps led to his Stamkos-like banishment upstairs to observe and do some off-ice strengthening work in his rookie season.

Playing the wing on an early shift against the Devils, he was dragged down behind the Leaf net by ex-Leaf Adam Mair, giving the Leafs a power-play opportunity.  On his next shift, he tried a move inside the Devils blue line and the puck almost got turned over, but no harm resulted.  Later in the shift he kept the puck inside the Devils zone and attempted a weak backhand.

On his subsequent shift he was in a defensively responsible position in the Leafs' zone and well situated to break out with Kessel on the rush.  He took a nice pass from Kessel at speed on what could have been a dangerous offensive opportunity.  He later got the puck safely in deep when it was time for a line change.

On his last shift of the period, the Leafs were trapped in their own end, but he seemed to be in proper position until Kessel led a play safely out of the zone.

So he had four or five shifts that I noticed in the opening frame; one slightly risky play (but he is here, in part, to create some offense and that requires some risk-taking) and otherwise a responsible period.  He was involved in one 'almost' scoring opportunity.

He played just over four minutes in the period.

On his first shift in the second period (after the Leafs killed off a second penalty to Mitchell), Kessel had an opportunity with a wrist shot off the wing, though Kadri was uninvolved and didn’t touch the puck on the shift.

Next time out he set up Kessel for a clear shot on net, and also sent Kessel in a second time though it wasn’t as clear cut an opportunity.

On a subsequent Leaf power play, he got the puck in deep but was largely not a threat.

Next time out he got crunched along the boards in the offensive zone.  The Leafs then spent a minute or more backed up in their own zone, and Kadri couldn’t quite clear the zone at one point.  A too-long and not good shift for Kessel-Bozak-Kadri as the Devils pressured for the first time in the game. (The momentum from that bad shift carried over for the next few minutes as the Leafs had to use a time out on an icing call and were hemmed in their own zone.)

The next shift created no offensive chances, and on Kadri's last shift with Kessel and Bozak in the second period Kovalchuk had a good chance to score for the Devils.

Though the Devils carried the play through much of the second half of the second period the Leafs walked away with a 3-0 lead.

Kadri played a bit more than five minutes in the second period, a fair bit of it hemmed in his own zone with Kessel and Bozak.


Kadri got on the ice late for his first shift of the third because the guy he was replacing was on a long time, so he barely saw the ice.

But the next time up Kessel set Kadri up beautifully in a great scoring position but Kadri shot the puck wide.  The Devils themselves almost scored on the next rush back up the ice.

Kadri missed his next shift because the Leafs ended up with a two-man advantage on the power-play.

His next shift was very short as he tripped Kovalchuk, earning a penalty.  The Devils scored very late on that power play.

A make shift unit with Sjostrom, Kessel and Mitchell took the ice because of a late penalty to the Leafs when it was 3-1.

As it turned out, Kadri did not play again, as best I could tell, after his penalty.  Whether that was coincidental or Wilson didn’t like what he was seeing, I don’t know.

Kadri played less than two minutes in the last period.


Overall, it was not a memorable night for Kadri.  He played 11 minutes.  He didn’t hit anybody, but that’s not his game.  He doesn’t kill penalties right now and played a bit on the power play so his ice time can be limited.  As I mentioned he did set Kessel up nicely once and had a scoring chance early in the third period.

To me, he looks like a guy being over-coached right now.  He’s probably getting so much input from teammates and the coaching staff and also thinking so much that he’s focused on not doing things “wrong” instead of just playing the game and letting his natural skills work for him.  That said, he’s not the first to have to go through the many adjustments and positional expectations that are part of making the leap to the NHL.

Now, interestingly, if Kadri had scored on his chance in the third, I’m willing to bet many would be opining that the two games up in the press box was good for him, that he came back more confident and played a smart game, etc.  If that shot had gone in, the reviews would be more glowing.

The truth is, I watched him closely and he was…fine.  He wasn’t a presence, he wasn’t really a factor.  That said, he didn’t cost them much (yes, a power-play goal for Jersey in the third).  He was basically just there.  But I’ve seen him enough to see he has skills and it is a matter of time before he has an impact.

How big that impact will be is something we won’t know for a while yet.  Maybe two or three years.

I don't believe Sunday night was a good barometer of what we can expect.


Other game notes

  • Mitchell scored again, which is hopeful, crashing the net for a rebound on a Leaf power play.  But I didn’t like the two penalties he took earlier in the game.  (Commentators might not have been so positive about his game if the Devils had capitalized on those early penalties when the game was close.)

  • Armstrong, like Mitchell, scored his second (and then his third) of the year.  He’ll need to score a bit more in the second half of the season to be more than a one-dimensional agitator.

  • The MacArthur, Grabovski, Kulemin trio continued to be the Leafs’ most productive.  They scored the third goal with MacArthur winning a battle along the boards, a good pass to Kulemin who waited and wristed it high while Grabbo jumped and screened Brodeur.

  • Gustavsson make some timely stops in the third period, when the Leafs could have melted when it was 3-1 and the Devils had some chances.

  • Kaberle, doing one of the things he does very well, spotted open ice for Armstrong and made a great pass for the Leafs’ last goal.

  • It’s difficult to gauge the “value” of a win against the Devils, who may be the worst team in the league right now.  They have now lost both games since Lemaire was named the “new” coach.  Brodeur is obviously not himself, for whatever reason.  Injuries, age, confidence—who knows?  They have aging talent (Arnott, Elias, Rolston, Langenbrunner, Zubrus), young guys who can play like Zajac and a superstar in Kovalchuk but the mix just seems awful right now.  I’m not certain Lemaire, with his numbing focus on checking and systems, is the answer.  He wasn’t last season.  I don’t know why he would be now.

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