The Toronto Maple Leafs have been amongst the NHL’s hottest teams since the turn of the calendar and one major reason for that is the collective success of the line featuring Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and Mitchell Marner.
The Maple Leafs are third in the Atlantic behind Tampa Bay and Boston and, although it will be an uphill climb, a division title is within reach with 16 games remaining in the regular season.
“We feel confident,” Kadri told Hockey Central at Noon Friday. “There’s lots of belief in this team. … We’re hoping to get a couple bounces in the next month but really our fate is in our own hands and that’s what we want.”
After going through a 20-game stretch from early December to mid January during which he registered just one goal and one assist, Kadri has tallied nine goals and 19 points in the past 17 games. He has Marner and Marleau to thank for many of those points.
Marner is playing perhaps the best hockey of his career with Kadri as his centre and the sophomore winger has 11 goals and 21 points in his past 17 contests.
Although Marleau has chipped in with only nine points in those 17 games, the 38-year-old might just be the glue that holds the line together.
“He skates. That’s his strength and he can certainly put the puck in the net when you give him the opportunity,” Kadri said of Marleau. “Patty’s the lead dog as far as forechecking goes and he’s usually been on the forecheck forcing defencemen to turn the puck over to me and Mitch and we just try to make as many plays as possible.
“Obviously all three of us have the chemistry there and we’ve been able to generate tons of offence but still be responsible defensively and I think that’s what really makes a dangerous line.”
Auston Matthews remains out with a shoulder injury so there’s even more pressure on Kadri’s line to perform and so far they’ve passed with flying colours.
The Leafs have dropped two straight—in a shootout to the Lightning and in overtime against the Panthers—and are hoping to snap the streak Saturday night when they visit the Washington Capitals in a Stadium Series game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“I think it’s a great set-up,” Kadri said of the Leafs’ second outdoor game in as many years. “We’re just kinda hoping the weather holds up.”