TORONTO - Nazem Kadri made plain his offensive talents to a couple of Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
The Maple Leafs rookie had two assists in the Leafs’ large 4-3 victory against the Sabres at the Air Canada Centre. He outwitted Shaone Morrisonn in the corner to set up Darryl Boyce for the Leafs’ second goal, and undressed Tim Connolly at the Buffalo blue line, centring to Clarke MacArthur for the third Toronto goal.
But that’s not what has been impressing his teammates.
“It’s the little things that some people would not notice — chipping the puck, really battling to get the puck out along the walls — he did a good job of that,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “You can see the maturity in him, not only on the ice, but off. He is showing he learned a lot (with the Marlies).”
Kadri certainly was not perfect — his dangling in the Sabres’ end led to a giveaway to Thomas Vanek that resulted in an odd-man rush for the visitors — but those things will happen with a 20-year-old. It’s better than not having the confidence to try to make something happen.
“When I first got here, I tried to lay under the radar a little bit,” Kadri said. “But now you will see that my stick is in the proper lanes, my feet are in the right position, I have my head on a swivel always. I have started to progress, the numbers are showing that, and it is a huge confidence boost for me.”
In seven games since he was summoned from the Marlies, Kadri has two goals and three assists and is plus-2.
Ron Wilson wishes coaching was this easy all the time: On the Leafs’ first two goals, they put to use two of the simplest hockey tenets — put the puck on the net and go hard to the net. Phaneuf’s shot from the blue line was one Ryan Miller should have stopped, but it went in anyway. Boyce has been one of the hardest-working Leafs since he was recalled from the minors at the end of December, and on Monday, Wilson was talking about how Boyce consistently drives to the net. That’s exactly what Boyce did to score Toronto’s second goal ... Did anyone get the name of the snake that bit Tyler Bozak at some point this season? Bozak missed an easy tap-in during the first period when Phil Kessel set him up on an odd-man rush. It was more of the same theme that has haunted Bozak through much of 2010-11 ... Not long after, Brad Boyes gave the puck away to Kessel, creating another odd-man rush. But Boyes got back in time to lift the stick of Bozak, who otherwise had an open net on Kessel’s rebound. In the third, defenceman Chris Butler stopped Bozak’s shot ... Boyce has been a true find for the Leafs this season. He has been about their best defensive forward, as he is plus-9 and does not get tonnes of ice time. What it means is Boyce rarely is on the ice for goals against ... The Leafs could have come undone after giving up two goals in a 30-second span to blow a 3-1 lead, but it didn’t happen. Wilson called a timeout to settle the emotions, but maturity that comes from a long season helped too.
From the hash marks
The Leafs had a two-man advantage in the second period for one minute nine seconds, but there was no real surprise when they did not score. Going into the game, the Sabres had killed off 42 consecutive minors against the Leafs, a span of 12 games that began in March 27, 2009, when Nikolai Kulemin scored a power-play goal in the third period. The Leafs came close, but Miller stuffed Kessel at the side of the crease. The Sabres kept the streak intact, killing off all five Leafs power plays ... Boyes will be playing the Leafs a lot more now that he is back in the Eastern Conference with the Sabres. “I always love playing Toronto, it’s my hometown team,” Boyes said. “I’ve been in the league a few years now, but there is still always that excitement when you come here.” ... Clarke MacArthur’s goal in the second period was his second in 14 games since the NHL trade deadline. His other one also was against Buffalo, one of his former teams ... This sort of thing is dumb and shouldn’t happen in the best hockey league in the world: Carl Gunnarsson made a brutal giveaway in the second period, leading to a goal by Rob Niedermayer, who backhanded the puck between Reimer’s legs. The goal clearly was unassisted, and was announced as such. At the start of the third period, it was announced that assists had been awarded to Steve Montador and Cody McCormick. Does anyone know why? ... The NHL presented penalty time-keeper Stu McFarlane with a gold watch before the game, commemorating McFarlane’s 25 years on the job.