The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety has dropped the hammer on Nazem Kadri, and it might be heavier than the Toronto Maple Leafs can bear.
Kadri’s emotional split-second decision during the Maple Leafs’ 5-1 Game 1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday has resulted in a three-game suspension, meaning the Maple Leafs centreman will miss a crucial Game 2 in Boston, followed by Games 3 and 4 in Toronto.
The suspension is a product of Kadri’s malicious third-period hit on Tommy Wingels, who was kneeling and facing the boards after throwing a check of his own, which appeared to target the head of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. The league did not hold back in punishing what it deemed to be Kadri’s intentional and retaliatory act.
So now comes the aftermath for a Toronto club that could ill-afford to lose the services of Kadri for any length of time, let alone three consecutive games after going down 1-0 and being thoroughly dominated by the Bruins in the series opener. His skills won’t easily be replaced.
So, how will the Maple Leafs shut down the big guns on the Bruins’ first line? How do they try to replace Kadri’s goal-scoring ability and his defensive play? How does the power play adjust in Kadri’s absence?
All of these questions will require adjustments on Toronto’s end that have to be made in a hurry.
As productive as Willy Nylander, James Van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews have been in the offensive end this season, it’s Kadri — because of his multi-faced toolset — who is the one player Toronto could ill-afford to lose against a Boston club that boasts stalwarts like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci down the middle.
As he’s done against Toronto’s opponents all year, Kadri was supposed to be tasked with shutting down the Bruins’ top unit of Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron — especially on home ice when the ever-important final change affords Mike Babcock the luxury of deploying Kadri head-to-head with Boston’s deadly trio. This makes the sting of losing a pesky centre for two critical home games a painful one for Toronto.
The ability for Babcock to match lines defensively will take a hit, and the team will have to find a way to replace Kadri’s expected production in the offensive end, too. Toronto’s third leading goal-scorer this season came into the playoffs fresh off his second consecutive 30-goal campaign, netting 32 for the second season in a row while ranking first on the Leafs, fourth in points (55), second in shooting percentage (15.2) and fifth in points-per-game (0.69) in 80 games this season.
He will be particularly missed with the man-advantage, as Kadri has carved himself a vital role on the Toronto’s top PP unit and finished the regular season leading the team with 12 power play goals. This is a heavy loss against a Bruins team that deployed the third-ranked penalty kill in the NHL this season.
A lot to figure out here for Babcock and the coaching staff, while Matthews and Tyler Bozak are going to have to pick up the bulk of the load in the scoring and defensive-matchup departments for Toronto to have a chance at surviving the next three games without its most important forward.
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