Toronto is 7-1 since the line of Kadri, Marner and Marleau was formed.
It seems Nazem Kadri is always going to be front and centre with the Maple Leafs, one way or another.
He was surrounded by media after the Leafs’ 6-3 win over Ottawa on Saturday, in part because he is one of the better quotes in the dressing room. But he was also in the middle of what might have been the most dominating performance by a Leafs line this season.
Kadri and wingers Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau combined for 10 points while posting ridiculous numbers in terms of possession, shots and shot attempts. The line had better than 80-per-cent puck control while on the ice at even strength and produced a combined 26 shot attempts. Kadri directed 11 at the net in the first period alone. And Marner, of course, finished with a career-high five-point night.
That line, put together almost three weeks ago, has the potential to give the Leafs a top shut-down unit with premier scoring power. That would be similar to the Bruins’ trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, one of the top-two way lines in the NHL. Boston seems like a likely first-round playoff opponent for the Leafs.
Just as important, the Kadri line now will make it doubly tough for opposing coaches to focus their attention on the Auston Matthews line. As Senators coach Guy Boucher noted Saturday, “I wouldn’t say our focus was on Matthews . . . if you sit in the office and look at (the Leafs) lineup, (there is) high, high-end depth on all four lines, and that’s why they’re such a good team.”
The success of the new line is something of a reward for Kadri after a tough December, during which he didn’t have a point in 11 games. Still, his slumps been tempered the last couple of seasons by the fact he has evolved into the Leafs’ main shut-down centre. That often comes at the expense of offensive output.
He has 18 goals and 35 points through 55 games this season and is unlikely to match last year’s career highs of 32 goals and 61 points. But he is a plus player for the first time since becoming a full-season regular in the Leafs’ lineup in 2012-13.
And, with what appears to be a developing chemistry with Marner and the veteran presence of Marleau, Kadri is back on the scoresheet with renewed vigour. He has nine points in the eight games since Marner joined the line.