Nazem Kadri’s aggressive play in Game 2 of the first round matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins resulted in him being suspended for the remainder of the series.
Because of his absence, other players on the Maple Leafs’ roster are being given opportunities they might not otherwise be given. After watching Game 3, Kadri’s suspension appears to have had a trickle-down effect.
In response coach Mike Babcock made changes to the original plan he had for the deployment of his resources. Players on the Maple Leafs’ roster used the opportunity to step-up their game. And for their Game 3 effort, the team got the second win of the series
The difference between winning two games in a series versus four games is huge, but so far, so good.
Kadri was Very Involved and Effective in Games He Played
A quick review of Games 1 and 2 can be used to demonstrate Kadri’s contribution. He was effective in the faceoff circle, at both ends of the rink and perfect in the defensive zone. He delivered more physicality then he took.
When in the Maple Leafs’ zone, he failed only once in clearing the puck on the first attempt. However, it was his beautiful clearing pass that sent William Nylander on his way to scoring his first goal of the playoffs.
Only Zach Hyman created more traffic in front of Tuukka Rask than Kadri did. Kadri was tough on the puck in all areas of the ice and may have been alone in trying to get under the skin of the Bruins players after the whistle had been blown.
But then Kadri did what he did the year previous, he delivered an illegal hit to an opponent’s head. This time it was in defense of Patrick Marleau, who by the way seemed unfazed by the huge hit he took.
Lines Three & Four Made Solid Contributions
Kadri’s suspension resulted in a shake-up of lines three and four. Personally, it benefitted Tyler Ennis. He had been a heathy scratch in games one and two. The time on ice minutes he received was about equal to the minutes the fourth line played in game one and down slightly from the minutes they were given in the game two loss to the Bruins. Ennis assisted on Trevor Moore’s goal, the first of the game.
Inserting Ennis onto the fourth line bumped Conner Brown up to the third line. His number of minutes increased and so too did his physical presence and blocked shots.
Possibly as a gesture of thanks to Kadri, Marleau played his best game of the series. Everyone could see Kadri watching the game from high above the ice surface. Marleau’s play was as if to say to Kadri ‘you had my back, now I’ve got yours’.
Marleau was much more engaged even though his time on ice was lower in game three than it was in games one and two. His four hits matched what Kadri delivered in Game 3, and exceeded the combined one hit he registered in the Games 1 and 2.
Even Strength Time on Ice Increased for Several Players
A review and analysis of the Maple Leafs / Bruins’ game recaps on NHL.com and specifically the Maple Leafs team statistics provides some interesting information about who got more even strength playing time in Kadri’s absence. As already established, it wasn’t the fourth line or Marleau.
Auston Matthews’ even strength ice time of 19:38 in game one was higher than his time on ice in games two and three, which were about the same and hovering around 16 minutes.
In Games 1, 2, and 3 there was no discernible difference in the even strength ice time logged by John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
When comparing game two and three, it was Andreas Johnsson (plus-6:23), Kasperi Kapanen (plus-4:28), Hyman (plus-2:03), and Brown (plus-3:39) who had more even strength ice time. Brown’s Game 3 increase holds true when compared to Game 1.
For the Johnsson, Kapanen, and Hyman their even strength ice time in Game 2, the game the Maple Leafs lost, was clearly the fewest minutes of the three games played thus far.
Takeaway Lessons Learned for Coach Mike Babcock
Deploy the fourth line the way they were used in Games 1 and 3. The empirical evidence suggests they were overused in Game 2.
Johnsson played well in Game 1 and arguably had more hustle than any other Maple Leafs player. Why his ice time was so significantly reduced in game two is a question without an answer. What we do know, receiving nearly the identical number of minutes in game three as he did in Game 1 contributed to the same result, a victory.
Although Kapanen was nearly invisible in Game 1, reducing his even strength time on ice to just over 10 minutes in game two is not part of the recipe for success. His play throughout the regular season warrants an on-ice opportunity to contribute, and in Game 3 he did.
The case to be made for giving Hyman more even strength ice time can be supported this way; game one (17:11), game two (13:36), and Game 3 (15:39). His fewest minutes per game were played in the game the Maple Leafs lost.
Stepping Up Game Intensity
Marleau, a good leader off the ice, took his leadership to the ice in Game 3. As mentioned, he was much more engaged and looked like he was avenging Kadri’s suspension.
Whether it was a deliberate attempt to replace Kadri’s grit or because of the on-ice leadership Marleau provided, or both, the entire Maple Leafs team stepped up the intensity of their game.
Oddly, the loss of Kadri’s services for the remainder of the series against the Bruins could have the best effect possible on the Maple Leafs’ roster. Everyone has the opportunity to reaffirm their value to the team and become part of a collective that fulfills their potential.
They need to keep it going and give their comrade Kadri an opportunity to come back and be as effective as he was while not crossing the line that landed him the suspension, this season and last.