OTTAWA – Nazem Kadri wanted to prove to the Toronto Maple Leafs coaching and management team that he could play in the NHL.
He made a lasting impression Wednesday night, scoring two goals and picking up an assist in the Leafs’ 4-3 pre-season win over the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s about time I did something out here,” said Kadri. “I capitalized on some chances and played well.”
Kadri, who was told by the Leafs that he was running out of chances, played on the Toronto’s top line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak and looked right at home despite the pressure to perform.
“There was some pressure because I haven’t played my best, I’ve been struggling as you guys can see,” said Kadri. “I kind of wanted to break out this game and turn things around and I feel I did that.”
Kadri realizes that one game might not be enough to convince the Leafs that he belongs in the NHL, but he’s hoping to at least have the opportunity to play in one of the two remaining exhibition games.
Kadri’s teammates were pleased to see him come out with a solid performance.
“That’s great for him,” said Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. “I think it’s going to give him some confidence. It’s not easy to be a young guy and try to show what you can do. There’s no doubt he has all kinds of talent, it just remains to be seen if he’s ready for the NHL.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson tried to downplay the importance of this one game for Kadri and others on the bubble.
“Let’s stop with all the drama and last chance and all this other kind of crap that goes around,” said Wilson. “This is just a process we’re going through. Some guys have played better than others and they make the team based on their performance.”
While Senators coach Cory Clouston didn’t exactly use the same words he had a similar opinion. With just two more exhibition games remaining he sees a need for improvement.
“Everything needs to improve,” said Clouston. “The power play wasn’t very good, but everything needs to be better.”
Nikolai Kulemin and Kessel also scored for Toronto, while Giguere stopped 22 shots.
Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Chris Campoli, with a goal and an assist, scored for the Senators, while Pascal Leclaire, playing just his second game of the pre-season, was solid facing 19 shots.
This was the third meeting between the two teams and it appears the provincial rivalry has found a renewed energy.
The Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on power-play goals by Kulemin and Kadri as the Senators spent much of the period shorthanded.
The Leafs finished the game 3-for-9 with the man advantage, while the Senators were 0-for-5.
“Our penalty kill has to be better,” said Clouston. “Special teams weren’t very good today.”
Both teams continued to play physical in the second and the Senators held their breath when Leclaire was slow to get up after being bumped by Mikhail Grabovski.
Midway through the period the 15,088 in attendance witnessed a rare altercation between Alex Kovalev and Francois Beauchemin. Beauchemin easily came out on top. Kovalev’s last fight came against the Leafs’ Darcy Tucker in March 2006.
“I just tried to use my head to hurt him,” said Kovalev with a laugh.
The Senators managed to win the second period and tied the game on goals from Michalek and Campoli.
“We had taken a lot of penalties in the second, which allowed them to gather some momentum,” said Wilson. “We just had to find a way to play some five-on-five hockey and we did.”
Alfredsson gave the Senators a 3-2 lead barely a minute into the third as he beat Giguere stick side from just outside the crease.
Kadri tied the game with just under six minutes remaining when he picked up his own rebound and beat Leclaire from in tight.
Kessel scored the winner on the power play with just over one minute remaining.
Despite giving up the loss Clouston still believed Leclaire played well enough.
“He was solid,” said Clouston. “It was a pretty decent effort, but we all need to be better, himincluded.”
Notes: The Senators were without D Filip Kuba (broken right leg, five weeks). . . The Senators re-assigned 16 players to their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton.