LONDON, Ont. – Maple Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri scored his first professional goal on familiar ice.
Toronto got first-period goals from Kadri and Lee Stempniak in a 4-0 pre-season win over the Philadelphia Flyers at John Labatt Centre on Thursday night.
“I didn’t know whether I should celebrate or not celebrate,” said 18-year-old Kadri, who played for the OHL’s local London Knights last season and hopes to beat the odds and stick with the pros.
Flyers’ captain Mike Richards chided him after Kadri was high-sticked and a Philly player was sent off. Richards implied the youngster was faking.
“He said ‘You’re going to have to be tougher to stay in this league,”‘ Kadri said. “I didn’t know you have to take a stick to the jaw.”
Toronto scored its third of the game the final minute of the second thanks to Mikhail Grabovski’s off-speed shot that beat Johan Backlund, who played the second half of the game in place of Brian Boucher.
The goal came minutes after Toronto failed to connect on a lengthy two-man advantage in front of the sellout crowd of 9,099 pro-Leaf fans.
Richards had the best chance on the penalty kill, but couldn’t control the puck on a two-on-one after a giveaway by Leaf rookie Tyler Bozak.
Both Toronto goals in the first came at even-strength, with Stempniak burying Niklas Hagman’s rebound into an open side four minutes in. Kadri then completed a nifty behind-the-back pass from Hagman for his first pro goal on the same ice he played most of his junior career.
Along with linemates Hagman and Viktor Stalberg, Kadri’s play was a bright spot as both teams struggled with the man advantage, going a combined 0-for-9.
The trio, along with Christian Hanson, Nikolai Kulemin and starting goalie Joey McDonald were the only Leafs to also play in Toronto’s 3-2 loss to Boston on Wednesday night.
“We had energy right through the 60 minutes,” Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. “Some players were better than (Wednesday night), some weren’t.”
After a spate of fights in their opening exhibition game against the Bruins, Leaf players got into four more Thursday night. Luke Schenn’s one-sided handling of Flyers’ Dan Carcillo was the only one involving a Leaf certain to make the team.
The game marked Flyers’ sixth consecutive year playing at the John Labatt Centre. The Flyers parent company, Global Spectrum, owns and operates the facility. Tickets ranged from $46.75 to $96.75.