Kadri won't back down

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Nazem Kadri is making it hard for the Maple Leafs to say goodbye, but others might be making Ron Wilson's job easier.

No. 1 pick Kadri certainly made the most decisive plays in a 3-2 shootout win last night over some fired-up Pittsburgh Penguin scrubs, the tying goal with 1:08 to play and a fancy shootout goal. Yet Wilson didn't sound like he was about to cancel his bus ticket back to London in the next week and said some of his younger players were guilty of defensive miscues that might have cost them in real games.

"I didn't think it was one of Nazem's better games, to be honest," coach Wilson said. "But it only takes special players like him one moment to change the outcome. He got a loose puck and buried it. If he goes back to junior, I'd be shocked if he didn't get 100 points.

"He and (Tyler) Bozak can eventually be magical players for us. But I only have spots for 23 players. Have they stolen anyone's job? Not in my estimation. Last year would have been a different story.

"Some guys will have to bide their time in the minors."

Refusing to brood after John Curry's glove save, Kadri scored with the Leafs net empty. Then he dipsy-doodled for a shootout strike that sent the Leafs on to the win when linemate Lee Stempniak bookended the goal.

The Leafs, a terrible team in shootouts the past few years, finished this in good time, with Vesa Toskala making two saves after stopping 25 of 27 in regulation and overtime.

Without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar and Marc-Andre Fleury, the watered-down Stanley Cup champs put unexpected checking pressure on the Leafs, who had six rookies in the lineup and, all reacted in different ways. Kadri and the Frat Pack collegiate line negotiated through for some chances, but Jiri Tlusty struggled and remains pointless in three games.

The Leafs also lost fourth liner Jamal Mayers after a first period collision with Tim Wallace "rang his bell" according to Wilson.

Kadri, due to be returned to the OHL if Wilson is serious about him not cracking the top two lines, made some fine individual plays. That he did it on a line with lower gear Rickard Wallin (replacing Colton Orr after a minor late-day groin injury) and Stempniak on his line most of the night was to his credit.

"I appreciate the coach giving me the chance at camp," Kadri said of staying around this long.

The Leafs head to Buffalo tonight with 30-plus players still clogging the roster. Wilson said after the game that defenceman Mike Van Ryn's knee might keep him out of the remaining four exhibitions, but that Jonas Gustavsson might see his first action in goal on Friday.

Despite starting his energetic line of Bozak between Christian Hanson and Stalberg, the Leafs never escaped their zone and a passive Tlusty was party to the Pens' first goal by Ryan Bayda.

"Right now, it's up to Jiri to make an impression," Wilson said before the game, noting the 21-year-old winger's scoring slump.

Toskala, who is supposed to get two more of the Leafs' remaining four contests, was pumped by the play of the kids.

"Every year we say we're excited for the season to start, but this year, we really mean it," he said.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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THEY'RE HOT

With four games to go, Toronto has now won as many exhibitions as any season since the lockout:

2009 4-1-0 Ron Wilson

2008 2-5-2 Ron Wilson

2007 3-3-2 Paul Maurice

2006 3-5-1 Paul Maurice

2005 4-4-0 Pat Quinn


Photos