Nazem Kadri did little to show Leafs management and fans that he belongs to start the season with the big club.
The London native centered the top line in the pre-season opener against the Ottawa Senators, but the diminutive pivot was unable to display the offensive ability that is expected to land him a spot on one of the Leafs’ top two lines when Toronto opens up the regular season Oct. 7 versus Montreal.
Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg made their Leafs’ debut on Kadri’s wing, but the trio failed to create chemistry in the offensive zone, particularly on the power play.
“The whole line struggled,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said following the game. “They were all trying to be too fancy.”
Kadri had a reputation in junior for being a spark plug, a small forward who is gifted offensively as well as someone who is not afraid of the physical aspect of the game.
The 19-year-old only registered one shot on goal, and his penchant for being in the face of the opposition was missing as well.
Coming into training camp, Wilson has repeatedly said that Kadri will have to show that he has the ability to play well in the defensive zone as much as score at the NHL level.
The 2009 first round choice had an excellent pre-season a year ago, and after a summer where the Leafs were unable to land a centre to play with sniper Phil Kessel, fan expectations are that Kadri will bypass the American Hockey League and lead the blue-and-white to the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Kadri is expected to play Thursday night in his hometown against the Philadelphia Flyers at the John Labatt Centre, and on Saturday in Buffalo.
New season, same old problems
Several aspects of the Leafs’ game that plagued the team last season on the way to a 29th place finish continued to be a problem for them on Tuesday night, most notably an ineffective power play.
After an opening period that produced only five shots, the Leafs benefited from a Senators team that could not stay out of the penalty box when they came out for the second period.
Ottawa took five minor penalties within the first five minutes of the second, but the Leafs were unable to capitalize on the extended power-play time that included three five-on-threes.
The duo of Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf on the point was unsuccessful as the Senators’ penalty killers made sure that Phaneuf was unable to unleash his heavy shot.
“We haven’t worked on a five-on-three yet,” Wilson said. “Not unlike our problem last year, we were very hesitant to move the pucks quickly.”
“We actually had three or four things wrong, but we’ll work on it moving forward.”
Another main area of concern for the Leafs going forward is the defence.
Team management mentioned the blue-line as a position of strength, but it was veterans Kaberle and Phaneuf who were victimized on the first two Senator goals.