The Toronto Maple Leafs were definitely expected to win tonight against the New York Islanders, a team that has played a lot better of late, but is still behind the Leafs in the standings. The Leafs definitely need to revisit their game, as they did not look very impressive tonight, and did not respond well by working hard to get answering goals.
There were too few times where the Leafs’ forwards were generating chances, outside of their five PP opportunities. Most of the 26 shots that the Leafs sent on goal were not really legitimate threats to hit the back of the net. I felt as though the pressure could have been upped by the Leafs in their own end as well; they were not careful and spent a lot of time puck-watching as opposed to playing more physical defense.
The Leafs have to realize that, though they have speed on the attack, there are other teams in the NHL that have a lot of speed as well. They check defensively with much less enthusiasm than they do on attack, which is probably why they got out-shot by such a margin.
On the positive side, Nazem Kadri had a very good game for the Leafs. He created the chance that Mason Raymond converted on the PP in the second period in order to tie the game at two apiece. He had great hockey instincts, knowing when to hit a teammate in stride and having a good response when his team needed an answering goal.
He also set up Joffrey Lupul, who nicely deflected his shot past Kevin Poulin in order to get the Leafs back within a goal with about three minutes left. Unfortunately, they ultimately fell short, but Kadri’s efforts were definitely noticed by his coaching staff.
It is good to see Kadri performing well after coach Randy Carlyle was infamously yelling at him during the Winter Classic. Kadri defended his coach and made adjustments to be more responsible with the puck in his own zone. He was even on a night when a lot of his teammates finished -1,-2 or even -3 (Dion Phaneuf).
Kadri could do well to realize that he has more options than he always sees when he is in the moment. A skater who does not always utilize optimal peripheral vision, and Kadri has a tendency to try and force plays based on a inability to see them develop. I am glad that he had the chance to work with the coaching staff and start to analyze his recent play and make the necessary changes.
In the long run, this time of development will pay off for Kadri. He has been able to produce points at a decent rate this year, but I am a firm believer in the idea that he could produce more. The reason that I think that fans are so hard on him is because they know that he can be so much better and can really help to spark the secondary scoring.
Hopefully, tonight is the beginning of improved play for Kadri.