TORONTO — Nazem Kadri tried to address the mechanics of his shot, increase his arm strength and fire the puck a bit quicker this year, all in a bid to score more often for the Maple Leafs.
But what’s really pushed Kadri to 20 goals– matching a career-high — after only 45 games is a spike in power play production. The 26-year-old is even with Sidney Crosby and Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman for second in the NHL with 10 power-play goals this season, eclipsing his old career-best of seven from a few years earlier.
“Obviously our power play has been huge for us,” Kadri said after scoring a pair of goals, including one on the power play, in a 4-0 win over Calgary on Monday night.
That wasn’t the case for the Leafs or Kadri in 2015-16. Kadri had only had only four goals in 76 games on the Leafs’ anemic power play last season, scoring two of them in the same March game against Florida. He had one power-play goal for the first five-plus months of the Leafs’ last-place campaign, finally scoring his second of the year on Mar. 24.
While Kadri’s been helped this year by a huge boost in talent with the additions of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, coach Mike Babcock said the centre’s improvement goes beyond an infusion of skill.
“Well, he’s in a way better spot on the power play now for him with the way he shoots the puck,” Babcock said.
The London, Ont., native now lines up most often in the slot area, the middle cog in Toronto’s four-forward formation. He was formerly positioned somewhere in the left faceoff circle.
Kadri has scored seven of his 10 power-play goals from that new spot this season, mostly pouncing on rebounds around the opposing netminder.
Never one with the hardest or quickest shot, Kadri has been able to capitalize on his quickness and tenacious play around the net.
“Just trying to find spots 10-20 inches away from the net and trying to put them in,” he said.
Kadri has scored the remaining goals from his old spot on the half-wall, the most recent one from atop the left faceoff circle as his shot, with help from a James van Riemsdyk screen, eluded Flames goaltender Brian Elliott.
Good fortune has also come his way on the Leafs power play, which leads the league since mid-December.
Kadri is currently shooting close to 40 per cent with the man advantage after firing at a clip of nine per cent last year. He’s not shooting all that much more, just capitalizing on chances from a more suitable spot on the ice.
He was probably owed better luck after last season’s misadventure in which he fired 260 total shots and scored only 17 times — a career-worst 6.5 per cent shooting percentage.
Babcock believes that scoring more generally has been “contagious” for Kadri, who signed a six-year contract worth US$27 million last summer.
“When you start scoring you think you can, and you take a little more time when you get (the puck) instead of (rushing) it and you bury it,” Babcock said.
Kadri is on pace for 37 goals at the moment — a pace that will likely slow — which would almost double his previous career-best (20), not to mention the 18 goals he averaged over the previous three seasons. He’s also tracking towards 60 points, another potential career-high.
Nylander’s addition to his even-strength unit has helped, as has a deeper Toronto lineup with Marner and Matthews posing threats on different lines for the opposition to contend with.
“I just like to surpass my totals from the year before and just try to have career years every year,” Kadri said.