Top 10 in National Hockey League scoring going into Friday? Check.
Top 12 in plus-minus in the NHL? Check.
About to lead the Maple Leafs to a rare victory against the Boston Bruins? Check back with us on that one.
Nazem Kadri might have to go through a wall — or, in this case, Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara — for the Leafs to beat the Bruins on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
To the surprise of no one, Kadri, who has 33 points in 31 games and is a plus-17, figured that it’s more than possible, though the Leafs win against the Bruins as often as Brian Burke ties a tie.
The 22-year-old Kadri expects nothing less from himself.
“You always want to play your best against the best teams,” Kadri said after just a handful of Leafs participated in an optional skate on Friday at the MasterCard Centre.
“That’s something I (pride) myself on, being able to elevate my game when those big guys come into town. Boston is a good team.”
Versus the Leafs, Chara often has been on the ice when Phil Kessel is. That could change on Saturday, when Toronto tries to win for the second time in eight games.
Bruins coach Claude Julien could do worse than try to have Chara on the ice as much as possible when Kadri hops over the boards for the Leafs.
“He’s a big guy with a long stick, so it’s important that I use my speed if we are matched up together,” Kadri said. “Use my linemates, as well. He can’t cover all three of us. We are going to have to make him move and really work to get that puck.”
Many in Leafs Nation are clamoring to see Kadri moved up to the top line by coach Randy Carlyle, who did not speak to reporters on Friday. It’s doubtful, though, that there will be a day when Carlyle stands in front of the masses and proclaims Kadri as his No. 1 centre.
If Kadri keeps performing the way he has been on both sides of the puck — and if he really wants to prove himself, he will have to demonstrate he can do it against the Bruins — he’s going to start getting first-line minutes naturally, as he did on Thursday night against Buffalo, when he played a personal season-high 21 minutes 27 seconds.
“Naz works to get the puck back and he out-competes guys to get it,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “He is scoring goals from in tight in tough areas and he is working through checks to score.
“The reason Naz has been so consistent is that he is playing extremely well in the D-zone and he is tough to play against in the little areas. He wins so many one-on-one battles.”
In other words, many Leafs forwards would do well to bring the kind of effort that Kadri does every game. Can Kadri do everything on his own in order to break the Bruins hex? Of course not. But for him to emerge as a leader, continuing to evolve in the home-and-home set against the Bruins has to happen.
If Kadri goes unnoticed in the next two games and then pops back up when the Leafs play host to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, some of the shine will come off.
His maturing, though, is clear. That he had landed in the top 10 in scoring didn’t resonate as much when he looked in the mirror as did his plus-minus mark.
“I have not really checked, but that is pretty cool, especially with how my last couple of years have went,” Kadri said of vaulting into the league scoring leaders.
“It’s nice to get a little recognition and earn some respect from, not only your teammates, but guys around the whole league. (Plus-minus) is the stat I am most impressed (with). I think I have made some definite leaps since the first time I got here, in that department. The goals and assists are great and all, but the plus-17 really stands out for me.”
The Bruins aren’t perfect. Other teams in the NHL beat them. It’s time for Kadri, with eight points in his past three games, and the Leafs to do the same.