Nazem Kadri becomes ‘difference maker’ for Avalanche in playoffs

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The Colorado Avalanche is not catching anyone off guard this year.

They certainly did in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s not that we couldn’t see the long term potential of a young team with a few star players, plenty of room for the cap and all. whatever you could wish for. But as the eighth seed in the West, they beat Calgary No. 1 in five games, then took San Jose all seven before losing.

Long terme potential? Forget that. Colorado was already showing they were about to do something special a year ago.

If there was one problem with this team at the time, it was a lack of depth. Everyone knew Nathan MacKinnon, a playful bull who could put this team on its back. But if you don’t have another line to reliably turn to for an offense, you’re capped. The Avs needed something else up front, a more immediate solution instead of waiting for more leads. And, boy, did they get it when general manager Joe Sakic acquired Toronto’s Nazem Kadri in an off-season contract for Alex Kerfoot and Tyson Barrie. The Avs responded to a need and got the best player in the business.

“What we were a little bit missing was this really good center in our lineup with a guy who can lead a line and it’s Naz off the tee,” MacKinnon said after a dominant 7-1 win over L ‘Arizona in Game 4. “He’s a great player for us. Great for faceoffs. It also brings loot to our team. He’s a fun guy to be around, he’s very confident. Excellent teammate. Every facet of the game helps our team. He’s had a really good playoff so far and we wouldn’t be here without him.

In that single first-round series, Kadri has scored three goals, including two winners. Throughout the playoffs, including qualifying and round robin games, Kadri’s nine points are tied for second in the league, two on pace from Sebastian Aho.

Kadri’s 28 shots lead the Avalanche, as do his six points on the power play. For those keeping track at home, Kadri now has more goals and one point less in seven playoff games with the Avalanche than in 19 playoff games in four playoffs with the Maple Leafs.

But Kadri’s contributions aren’t just measured in offensive totals. He’s also a disruptor, with a penchant for penalties and playing with an advantage that usually translates well into the postseason. However, part of the reason his tenure in Toronto ended three years before his value contract ($ 4.5 million AAV) was due to a few incidents where he crossed a line and cost his team.

In 2018, Kadri was suspended three playoffs for a hitting against Tommy Wingels of Boston, and in 2019 he received another suspension for a cross-check over Jake DeBrusk who took Kadri out of the rest of that seven-game streak after. to have started it with a goal and an assist in two games.

As big as Kadri’s offense has been for the Avs this season, his key stat is: no penalty minutes. It also did not come at the expense of its advantage. According to Natural Stat Trick, Kadri shot four penalties on the opposition, a skill he’s long known for.

“I’m just trying to introduce myself. It really is. Try to play as hard as you can, ”Kadri said after his two-goal, three-point performance gave the Avs a 3-1 lead in the series. “I obviously know I’m more important on the ice than in the penalty area. I’m just trying to show a bit of maturity and worry about the score sheet.

“It’s part of my job, I think, is to try to irritate and penetrate people’s skin. I think I have understood this in recent years. The important thing is to stay calm and stay out of the box.

Kadri, perhaps, was a bit of a luxury for the Leafs. After signing John Tavares, Kadri was moved down the roster to the third center line. But in all respects, he was still an NHL second row center player. And while Kadri might need the shock of this trade from his native team, or a return to training, to really see that kind of playoff breakthrough, it’s hard not to think that the Leafs could have used it this year.

“He’s a guy who can help lead our team,” said Avs coach Jared Bednar. “We had a conversation this morning about what we do with his teammates and what we needed to get out of his line no matter who was playing with him. He was focused and had a really good intensity in his game. He wanted to make a difference and certainly was tonight.

“A guy who can finish like this and score those big goals for you while checking out and doing all the right things on the defensive end is really important. This extra depth is essential. ”

Colorado looks like a buzz seen right now and a hell of a game for any team. Who is really capable of eliminating them in a seven game streak? To reach that full potential, it is obvious that the main players who were all part of last year’s squad have to bring it in every night. MacKinnon, Gabriel Lendeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Philipp Grubauer.

Kadri, however, is an X factor in many ways for the Avalanche. As important as it is for him to keep producing on the power play and maintain an irritating advantage, it is crucial not to overtake and make the mistake he has made many times in the past.

These playoffs could be something of a redemption for Kadri. Heck, at this rate, he could be in contention for the Conn Smythe in a few weeks.



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