Mired in a 7 game losing skid, the Toronto Maple Leafs turned to two young rookies as they looked to spark a surge back into the win column. Summoned by GM Brian Burke on Friday, Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie Â debut on the grand stage and spotlight of hockey Night In Canada for a game against the Vancouver Canucks.
In Kadri the young draft pick will be looked upon to give the sputtering Leafs offence a much needed boost, while playing on a line with Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin. Head Coach Ron Wilson touched on Kadri’s capabilities and what he expects from the London Ontario native.
“We want to surround Nazzy with detail [oriented] people so that he can show us what he can do offensively with the puck,” Wilson told reporters. “So hopefully that line is able to click. And you’ve got to remember that they’ve only played one practice together but in theory I think it can work.
“Nazzy has the skills that our power play needs and if he does here what he’s been doing in the AHL on the power play then it will pick up some steam I think.”
Necessary to ease the tension, the Leafs came out with a jump and were able to secure the all important first goal. Francois Beauchemin snapped a shot, deflecting off Frederik Sjostrom and passed Roberto Luongo. The early goal lifted the Leafs bench, leading to a Phil Kessel power play goal, ending his 7 game point slump and sending the Leafs to a 2-0 lead.
Looking to find a way back into the game, Christian Ehroff exaggerated the effects of a John Mitchell hit, sending the Canucks to the power play. Causing an uproar on the Leafs bench, Daniel Sedin slid one passed J.S. Gigeure, putting his team on the board. Late in the first period with the Canucks pressing, the Leafs found themselves scrambling in their own end before a wide open Ryan Kesler beat Gigeure with a one-time shot, tying the game at 2.
In a second period filled with strange and theatrical calls, the Canucks ended up on a power play and Ryan Kesler made it 3-2 on his second goal of the game. Maintaining their compete level, the Leafs were able to generate momentum, leading to a Mikhail Grabovski goal and tying the game at 3.
The third period revealed an exciting back and forth affair with both teams trading chances and each goaltender equally up to the task. Poised and on his game, Roberto Luongo gave his team the confidence they needed with many great saves, keeping the Leafs from taking the lead. J.S. Gigeure played a solid game and turned in what was a great performance until he was handcuffed by a Mason Raymond shot, giving the Canucks a 4-3 lead and the eventual game winner. The goal deflated a fragile Leafs group and with the net empty, Dan Hamhuis recorded his first goal as a Canuck, sealing the 5-3 victory.
Although they once again were unable to pull from their losing skid, the Leafs showed signs of life and dictated the play throughout most of the game. Skating well and moving the puck, the line of Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, and Nikolai Kulemin created many chances but could not beat Roberto Luongo, who was the Canucks best player on the night. Kadri who looked tentative to begin the game, eased his way into the action and set up a few chances for his line-mates, while registering 1 shot on goal. Perhaps not the breakout performance he would have preferred, Kadri can look to this game and build from it while making a case to remain with the Leafs.
With a chance for a much needed point, perhaps even two, the game seemed destined for overtime. The soft goal on J.S. Gigeure took the life from the Leafs, and after the game Head Coach Ron Wilson touched on the play.
“We could have had one point, maybe two. The third period was our best period in two or three weeks. The circumstances of the winning goal weren’t very good. Giggy played great all night but we needed a stop there. He would be the first to tell you he had to have that shot. But we kept pushing and we had some great opportunities. I thought our young guys played well, but when it mattered Luongo made some great saves to keep his team in the lead.”
With the strong effort and visibly improved play aside, the Leafs losing streak stretches to eight games and have only 1 win in their last 12 outings. Perhaps a fun and relaxed atmosphere can remove the sting of this loss as the group is scheduled to showcase their talents at the teams Skills Competition on Sunday. Their performance in this game should result in Ron Wilson keeping his lineup in tact as they prepare to host the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. While it is tough to take pride when losing, remaining positive is a must for this team in order to find its way out of a very tough situation.