TORONTO - A three-on-one with six minutes and change left to play in a tie game?
You bet Nazem Kadri knew he had a chance to be a hero in his first career NHL game that mattered.
Instead, as he looked around seemingly undecided about whether to pass or shoot, the puck slipped harmlessly off his stick.
“I knew exactly what I was doing, it just hopped over my stick,” Kadri said. “It was the crucial time of the game. I could have put it away.”
Overall, Kadri looked solid and, dare we say it, after 60 minutes showed he may now be NHL ready. He logged a solid 18:05 in ice time, as planned, including two big shifts in the final three minutes as the Leafs tried to tie it up.
More importantly, the line of Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin was the Leafs’ best and Kadri, who had a one-game cameo last year, showed much more zip than he did in a failed pre-season.
“I think I have the speed and work ethic to keep up,” Kadri said.
It may be eight losses in a row for the Leafs, matching their brutal start to last season, but it doesn’t feel as miserable to the players. “It’s not like we are bleeping awful, last year was way worse than this,” defenceman Francois Beauchemin said. “We’ll get out of this and win six or seven in a row.” ... At the end of practice both Thursday an Friday, the Leafs spent considerable time working on deflections. It paid off with Freddie Sjostrom’s first goal of the season on a deft deflection of a Beauchemin shot in the first period ... Leafs coach Ron Wilson called the third period the best his team has played in weeks. If it wasn’t for the play of Roberto Luongo in the Canucks net and a weak one by J-S Giguere, they would have had something to show for it .... Looks like Mikhail Grabovski is finally learning the value of getting his shot away. A nice delay, which allowed Clarke MacArthur to cause some traffic in front of the net, resulted in Grabovski’s third goal in four games. This after zero in his first 12 ... The Sedin twins each got on the scoresheet Saturday and each have a point in 14 of their 16 games thus far ... Luongo didn’t have as much work as Giguere but had to make at least a half dozen big stops including back-to-back game savers on Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur in the final minute.
Kids are all right
Bill and Karen Aulie, the parents of Leafs rookie defenceman Keith, made the trip from their farm near Roleau, Sask., to see their boy in his NHL debut and the 6-foot-5, 225 pounder didn’t look out of place. Aulie saw some time on the penalty kill and we can see why: With the big wing span and reach, he’s effective at keeping opponents to the outside. “He’s physical, he makes good first passes,” Beauchemin said of Aulie, who saw 14 minutes in ice time .... Wilson has always appreciated big moments for young players and as a result both Aulie and Kadri were on the ice for the opening faceoff ... Kadri on serving a two-game suspension when he goes back to the AHL: “IF I go back.” ... As you would expect, Kadri was getting regular attention from assistant coach Tim Hunter. Production aside, a big factor in how long he sticks will depend on how he responds to coaching
Large contingent of Canucks fans came close to drowning out the mild-mannered Toronto faithful ... Captain Dion Phaneuf was on crutches but in the building recovering from a gash in his leg that should keep him out until near Christmas ... The Leafs were particularly incensed on a cross-checking call against John Mitchell that led to Daniel Sedin’s power play goal. Canucks forward Christian Ehrhoff clearly jumped to sell the call.