TORONTO – Earlier in the day, Leafs general manager Dave Nonis did his best to tame the lofty rhetoric surrounding the rising 22-year-old talent.
“I love the way Naz has played,” Nonis said. “Everybody does. I'd love to put the brakes on ‘here comes 100 points'.”
Even as they try to cool the flames of typical Toronto hyperbole, emphasizing the need for growth while keeping expectations in check, Nazem Kadri just keeps fanning the fire with his performance. Kadri had another eventful evening at the Air Canada Centre on Monday, helping spark the Leafs to a 4-2 comeback victory against the Devils, their fourth win in the last five games at home and second straight following a three-day layoff.
Running shotgun with Clarke MacArthur and Leo Komarov on what's become an increasingly effective third unit, Kadri pocketed his ninth goal of the year – a squeaker that trickled through Johan Hedberg – also adding an assist on MacArthur's game-winning goal. He increased his team-lead in scoring to 23 points (23 games), now tied for 13th best in points league-wide this season.
“His skill has always been there,” Nonis continued following Monday's morning skate, “he didn't get good overnight, he's been good for a long time, but his professionalism and the way he's handled the pro game in the last month and a half has taken a big step forward and I think he deserves a lot of the credit for that, a great deal of it and the coaching staff deserves some as well. But there's a lot of work still left to do for Naz to be the player he can be and he knows that.”
Like Nonis, Randy Carlyle did his best to slow the rapidly-growing hype after the game, conceding to the immense talent, a but also addressing the obvious need for continued growth.
“You guys just want to anoint him don't you?” grinned Carlyle in conversation with media. “He's a great young player and he's got a skill-set that separates him from people, but in the second period he goes one-on-four and he was the start of the onslaught of turning the puck over. And [then] he had a two-minute shift. He had all those things and he still ends up being the fair-haired boy. That's great because he is a special player. He's a young player and those are the learning curves that have to take place.”
He and the Leafs were generally stunted in their performance through 40 minutes, down 2-1 before Jay McClement knotted the score in the opening minute of the third. Feeding MacArthur on a Toronto power-play minutes later, Kadri helped spur a lead his team would not relinquish. With Monday's effort – he logged nearly 17 minutes and finished 11-19 on the draw – Kadri ran his point streak to five games, totaling four goals and nine points in that span.
1. Kadri learning curve
Among the finer points Carlyle and the coaching staff have been manicuring with Kadri are his efforts on the draw. While he was effective against the Devils (58%), he's posted a 44% mark for the season. “Faceoffs are an area that needs a vast improvement,” Carlyle said. “And it's not just taking the faceoff it's competing on the faceoff and it's battling and it's tying up; there's different ways to take it. Those are all the things that'll come with some maturity and some experience. What we're trying to do is make sure – I've said this numerous times – that Nazem Kadri plays in the league for 10 or 15 years in the league, not for four or five. We want to teach him the right way to play because he's got a tremendous talent package there.”
2. MacArthur heats up
Also extending his point streak to five games was MacArthur, who potted the game-winner, also adding a helper on Kadri's game opening goal. “Clarke MacArthur, since we've moved him with Kadri has had a breakout,” said Carlyle. The 27-year-old and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent has tallied three goals and six points during his recent streak, finally finding a groove – especially with Kadri – after a slow start to the season. He has nine of his 10 points for the year in the past eight games. “They've got the young spirit in them,” MacArthur said of Kadri and Komarov, the 26-year-old rookie. “It's nice to play with that and get back to enjoying the game like they are. It's not a job for them. They're out playing, having fun. It's nice to be a part of that.” MacArthur's name will be of central focus in the next month – leading to the early April trade deadline – his status with the club moving forward of particular intrigue. Nonis and the management team will have to weigh where he fits, both in the short and long-term. With Matt Frattin emerging before his knee injury, James van Riemsdyk showing signs of star potential, and Joffrey Lupul recently inked to a five-year extension the Leafs may deem that MacArthur doesn't have a place beyond this season. But with his offensive ability, tenacity and leadership (he was named an alternate captain before the season), he could be a piece the organization wants to keep in the fold to help the playoff push this season.
3. Reimer's post-injury challenge
James Reimer made his second straight start following two-plus weeks on the shelf. He explained the challenges of re-attaining the performance level – .929 save percentage – he had demonstrated prior to his left knee injury. “Sometimes with an injury and an injury that keeps you from moving it's tough,” he told TSN.ca before the game. “When you come back [initially] you can't do all the movements right and so you just have to really focus on almost over-exaggerating every movement so that when you do get back, everything's healthy and you can do the movements, you haven't cheated yourself or got bad habits from trying to favour it.” Rusty in his first start back against the Islanders this past Thursday, Reimer was sturdy with 28 saves in the win against the Devils. “A little bit better,” he said of how he felt Monday. “With the Islanders it was a little bit more scrambly of a game because they're a run-and-gun team …With New Jersey and our structure it makes for more of a controlled game so as a goalie you can anticipate the plays, see the plays, and it's more predictable for lack of a better word.”
4. Top line makes a little noise
Generally quiet with just two goals combined in the previous four games, the Leafs top line of James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak offered signs of optimism in Monday's victory. After totaling one shot as a unit through two periods against the Devils, the line became a noisy force in the third, van Riemsdyk feeding Kessel for the fourth and final Toronto goal. “Towards the end of the game I think we started to get some more momentum and more zone-time,” van Riemdsyk said. “I think we were just a little out of sync the last couple games maybe it seemed like, but started to do some good things in the third period.” For Kessel, the goal was just his fifth this season and first on home-ice.
5. McLaren's role in the Mike Brown trade
He was admittedly stung when the San Jose Sharks placed him on waivers in late January, but the move has evolved into a blessing in disguise for Frazer McLaren. The 25-year-old has played in 16 games with the Leafs, his performance (Monday notwithstanding) in a fourth line edge role “definitely a factor” in the deal which sent Mike Brown to Edmonton. “Frazer's made it easier,” said Nonis, “there's no question about that.” While he is only averaging about five minutes per night, McLaren has carved out a role by sticking to the template he was given upon arrival in Toronto. “They talked to me right when I got here,” said Frazer, who has tallied 25 penalty minutes and a couple goals so far. “They knew what I could do and how I can play. They gave me some guidelines about protecting pucks down low, finishing my hits and sticking up for teammates; basically I just tried to use that as a guideline and go play my game.” McLaren and his linemates – Colton Orr and Dave Steckel – didn't have a good night against the Devils by any means. The unit was on the ice for both goals against, McLaren's turnover at the offensive blue-line sparking Marek Zidlicky's second of the evening. McLaren and Orr did not play a shift in the final period.
Quote of the Night
“I love the way Naz has played. Everybody does. I'd like to put the brakes on ‘here comes 100 points'.”
-Dave Nonis, attempting to tame the hyperbole surrounding Nazem Kadri and his fast start this season.
Quote of the Night II
“To be very clear, Mike Komisarek has not asked for a trade. I would put Mike down as one of the best teammates that I've ever had in terms of a player that's ever played for me when I've been working for a club. What Mike has said is that if it's in the best interest of the team he wouldn't stand in the way, but his preference is to try to get back in the lineup here in Toronto. That gives us an opportunity, an open door, if there is a move that makes sense for us. But he was very clear with me that he came here, signed here, would love to play here, but understands he's not in the lineup and if it's in the best interest of the team he wouldn't stand in our way. That to me is a lot different than coming into our office and saying ‘I want to be moved'. That never happened. And I don't expect it ever will with Mike.”
-Nonis, on the status of Mike Komisarek, who sat as a healthy scratch for the 18th time this season on Monday night.
5-games: Point streak for Kadri (4 goals, 5 assists) and MacArthur (3 goals, 3 assists).
82:44: Minutes for Jay McClement on the penalty kill this season, first among all NHL forwards. Despite the hefty load, McClement has been on the ice for just five power-play goals against, the unit perfect in four attempts on Monday.
3: Points for Tyler Bozak in the past 10 games.
5-5-0: Leafs record at home.
14: Points for Cody Franson, now tied for sixth among NHL defenders. Franson tallied his 13th assist of the year on MacArthur's game winner.
4:28: McClement shorthanded ice-time on Monday night.
Joffrey Lupul – 20 games (arm)
Matt Frattin – 10 games (knee)
Total Games Missed: 62
The Leafs host the Senators on Wednesday night.