UNIONDALE, NY - The team's perennial 30-goal man and leading scorer last season strolled by the new kid on the scene and could only exclaim what was plainly on display at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night.
"He is a sick, sick man," Phil Kessel said as he spotted the 22-year-old in a jubilant visiting dressing room.
Nazem Kadri put on a "special performance" (as Randy Carlyle called it) at the aging rink in Long Island, potting a wow-inspiring hat trick as the Leafs rallied for a 5-4 overtime win, bouncing back from a stunted effort at home just a night earlier. Already the team's leading scorer, Kadri vaulted into the conversation of the NHL's scoring elite, now tied for 16th in league scoring with 21 points in 22 games.
"Looked average," James Reimer deadpanned with sarcasm afterward. "He's not a very good player so that kind of surprised me. But no obviously he played unreal. He's a heck of a player and he had a great game tonight. It's fun to watch him with the puck. We've all known what kind of skill he has and he's shown it a bunch of times, but tonight I think was one of his best nights obviously."
"Tonight he was the best he's probably been in a long time," Carlyle said of Kadri, who now has eight goals and is riding a four-game point streak. "Outside of scoring goals, he was dependable defensively, didn't turn the puck over, he was physical; he's a scrappy player. Those are the things that he has to continue to stay focused on and the offence will naturally come with him."
Kadri scored two of his three in the middle frame as the Leafs raced out to a 4-2 lead. They "stood still" in the third, however, as the Islanders hustled back into the action, tying the game midway through the period on a goal from Kyle Okposo. Dion Phaneuf salvaged the needed victory in overtime, a three-day break looming mercifully for the club beginning on Friday.
"It's just all about helping the team," Kadri said, any bravado he could muster seemingly left on the ice. "That's what I wanted the most. I wanted to come in here and make an impact and help these guys win because I do truly believe that this is a winning team, that this is a playoff team. Obviously we've got some work to do, but I think we're well on our way."
1. Bounce-back - again.
It was not quite an ideal performance, but on yet another occasion in the month of the February, the Leafs managed to bounce back from a loss, beaten soundly by the Canadiens on Wednesday night. "I wouldn't say relief, but I think that it was a big bounce-back game for us," said Phaneuf, scoring his fourth of the year on the winner. "We've used the word 'bounce-back' before, but we talk about when we don't play well that we want to respond in the right way." The Leafs haven't lost back-to-back games since February 2-4, when they dropped consecutive games to the Bruins and Hurricanes. In fact, they've lost back-to-back games just twice all season, now sitting with a record of 13-9-0.
2. Squandered lead
Of the third period, which saw the Islanders erase a two-goal Toronto lead - the second time they've done so against the Leafs this season, winning the first meeting in Toronto back in January - Carlyle said, "I think we stood still and tried to make plays. We didn't really attack. We sat back and they came at us, they came at us, they came at us and we were receiving more than we were initiating. And we can't play that type of hockey." Carlyle called a timeout after Andrew MacDonald brought the home side within one, miscommunication between Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin leaving MacDonald wide-open for the one-timer. Okposo tied the game minutes later after Mark Fraser's point shot in the offensive zone ricocheted off the winger's shin-pads, springing a rush and laser past the glove of Reimer.
3. The hat trick
"I think everything's confidence," Clarke MacArthur responded when questioned on the night his linemate had. "Once you get to this level and you think you can play here and then once you get that confidence it's like the NHL goes down a notch. The game comes easier … He's oozing with confidence right now. But he works for it too. It's a great combination." Of the three Kadri scored versus the Islanders, the third was the one inspiring awes in the Toronto dressing afterward. Sprung through the neutral zone on a feed from Mike Kostka, Kadri dipped the puck through the legs of Lubomir Vishnovsky before retrieving it to beat Evgeni Nabakov. "It was one of those moves, it's like a summer league play," MacArthur said. [But] he's doing that in big games." For his first goal, Kadri took a Fraser feed in transition, dragged the puck patiently through the high slot before besting Nabakov. His second marker - also in transition - flew past the glove of the Islanders goaltender, who simply fanned on the puck.
4. Fight night for Reimer
Like his counterpart, Reimer had to battle in his return to the crease on Thursday evening. "I would say that would be a good description," Carlyle concurred of the 24-year-old's 23-save performance. "It's not easy stepping in having not played in an extended period of time - over two weeks that he hasn't played. You're always questioning yourself whether you should go with him, but anytime you've got a guy that's coming off an injury, specifically a goaltender, we're not going to critique the goals; we threw him in the net and he won the hockey game." Reimer hadn't played since February 11 when he injured his left knee in an eventual win over the Flyers. The first shot he saw - off the tape of Josh Bailey - found the back of the net. "I felt alright," he said. "Not as good as I would've liked, but it's one of those games where you just have to battle and compete for the whole time and hope that you make enough saves and get a piece of enough pucks to keep your team in it." Prior to the injury, Reimer had posted a 2.31 goals against average and .929 save percentage.
5. Road strong
The Leafs improved to 9-4-0 on the road with Thursday's victory, having outscored opponents 42-31 for a goal differential of plus-11. For comparison's sake, they sit with a minus-2 mark at home, carrying a record of 4-5-0. "The one thing about winning on the road, it breeds confidence in your group," Carlyle said. "You can continue to feel that you can go out and you can be competitive, you're going into any building and you've got a chance to win. That's really what we're trying to strive for."
Quote of the Night
"Looked average. He's not a very good player so that kind of surprised me. No, obviously he played unreal."
-James Reimer, sarcastically describing Kadri's performance.
16: Points for Kadri at even-strength, tied for seventh-best league-wide.
7: Points for Kadri during a four-game streak (three goals, four assists).
0: Penalties for either team on Thursday night.
9-6-0: Leafs record in February.
6-15: Faceoff mark for Kadri against the Islanders, an area he has targeted for improvement.
43.3%: Kadri's faceoff percentage this season.
6-19: Tyler Bozak in the faceoff circle on Thursday, a rare off night.
13: Points for Cody Franson this season, tied for sixth best among NHL defenders.
22:28: Mike Kostka. The 27-year-old rejoined Phaneuf on the top pairing in the third frame, Carlyle reasoning afterward that Korbinian Holzer had struggled with the puck, forcing the change which saw Holzer join Carl Gunnarsson.
Following their first extended break of the season, the Leafs return home to host the Devils on Monday.