Nazem Kadri spoils Connor McDavid’s homecoming party

Nazem Kadri scored two goals including the winner in overtime as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers.

Over the years, many stars from Toronto and environs have come home to feast on the Leafs.

So many seem to save their best hockey for the trip home.

Go back a couple of generations. As good as Wayne Gretzky was anywhere else — with the Oilers, the Kings, the Blues (however briefly) and the Rangers — it seemed like he raised his game to another level when he’d get to Carlton Street in Toronto.

Just think back to Game 7 of the 1993 Clarence Campbell Conference Final at Maple Leaf Gardens, when he led the Kings to a win over the Maple Leafs in what many — including himself — have called his greatest game.

Now, go back a couple of weeks. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos torched the Leafs, as is his habit at the Air Canada Centre.

Thus, expectations couldn’t be higher than when Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers stepped out onto the ice at the foot of Bay Street Tuesday night.

Less than two years ago at the ACC, McDavid led Team Canada team to a win over Russia in the World Juniors final.

Less than two months ago, he shone on the same ice in the World Cup of Hockey, representing the kiddie corps that was Team North America.

McDavid was coming into Tuesday’s game leading the league in points. The Oilers had won seven of their first nine games of the 2016-17 campaign, playing a run-and-gun game that has offered up a highlight-reel moment almost every other shift.

Tuesday night was McDavid’s first NHL game so close to home, and though it was just another game on the NHL’s regular season schedule, it had a sense of occasion that won’t likely be matched on any night over the winter.

If Bobby Orr and Gretzky made it out to rubber neck at the morning skate, well, it was going to be an event.

It wound up being a pretty decent game — just not the event that people expected: a 3-2 victory for Toronto in overtime.

You had a sense it wasn’t going to be Connor McDavid’s night from the very first shifts.

If Toronto coach Mike Babcock gave the fans at the ACC what they wanted, he would have put Auston Matthews head-to-head against McDavid.

You know, the first overall of 2015 versus the first from 2016. Your future versus ours.

That stuff only happens in the movies, though.

Instead, Babcock matched Nazem Kadri against the Oilers’ young captain.

This fall, Kadri hasn’t become an afterthought, per se. But still, you wonder where his place in the mix will be down the line with Matthews and William Nylander on hand.

Is Kadri anybody’s idea of a third-liner? Probably not. But after this game, the notion might deserve some reassessment.

Kadri, whose game has a sneaky physical edge when he’s right, dropped McDavid beside the Leafs’ net on the opening shift and thereafter it was on between them. Then, Kadri really got his adrenaline flowing seconds later when he beat Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot to open the scoring.

Kadri stayed in McDavid’s shadow the rest of the way.

Behind the play Kadri would poke, jab and trash-talk McDavid and it seemed to get him off his game. McDavid looked like he got tired of it pretty quickly, and Milan Lucic did what he was brought into the fold to do — namely, try to throw a scare into anyone who takes liberties with the franchise player.

It didn’t seem to throw Kadri off at all.

It didn’t seem to scare off anyone else in the Leafs’ lineup either—at one point in a scrum after a whistle, defenceman Martin Marincin appeared to lock up McDavid in a sleeper hold behind the Leafs’ net and No. 97 couldn’t break free without the officials stepping in.

The Leafs’ emerging young stars — Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander — had their moments and generated chances, but it really was Kadri’s night.

At the start of overtime, he beat McDavid on the draw, got behind him in the neutral zone and fought through a McDavid check while deking out Talbot for the game winner.

Kadri stole the show and the Leafs managed to come away with two points, despite netminder Frederik Andersen giving up a goal by Darnell Nurse in the third period that was as soft as three-ply facial tissue.

Personally, I go far enough back to remember Gretzky’s first NHL game with the Oilers at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1979. (I snuck in to watch Edmonton practice, and scored tickets that night.)

If my memory serves, he scored two goals that night and I think he got a couple of assists, too. And for all the talk about him being an ugly skater, I remember him out-legging Borje Salming to loose pucks a couple of times—yeah, Gretzky was doing it against a Hall of Famer.

McDavid’s NHL debut at the ACC pales in comparison to that game, to Game 7 back in ’93 and to umpteen more.

But Connor McDavid is 19. A fool would bet against him going pointless and minus-2 next time.

A fool would also bet against Nazem Kadri drawing the shutdown assignment next time.

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