Unlucky Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri unfazed by career-worst slump

The Toronto Maple Leafs have not been playing their best hockey of late, despite a decent cushion in Atlantic division. Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston tee up tonight's match against the San Jose Sharks.

TORONTO – Despite being mired in the worst scoring drought of his hockey life, Nazem Kadri will not change a thing.

“I’m not much of a head case,” says Kadri. “Mentally I have that toughness to stick through it, and my teammates are trying to find me. It’s gonna come.”

Such confidence and trust while trudging through the winds of bad luck is something the 27-year-old believes he would not have had earlier in his career.

The Toronto Maple Leafs second-line centre went 0-for-December, and the entire team — advertised as a high-flying, score-at-will bunch — was shut out by the Tampa Bay Lightning in its first game of 2018.

“I’m getting tons of opportunities. You start to get frustrated or concerned when you stop getting those quality scoring chances and you have a little doubt in yourself. The past 10 games, I’ve been everywhere and had lots of opportunities to put puck in the net. They just haven’t been going in,” he says.

“I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum, when you’re on fire and when you’re hitting a cold streak. I’ve learned how to deal with it pretty well.”

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Never has the spectrum swung so chilly.

Kadri’s most recent point came on Nov. 30 in Edmonton, which wrapped a remarkable run of 12 points in 12 games. Since then, he’s gone 12 games without appearing on the scoresheet. Worse, he hasn’t registered as a plus player in 13 consecutive games. (To be fair, he only played a couple shifts in Arizona on Dec. 28 before leaving with a case of whiplash.)

This is easily the most enduring dry spell of Kadri’s eight years in the NHL. Since fighting an eight-game scoreless streak as a rookie in 2010-11, the feisty forward had never gone thirsty for more than six consecutive games in a season.

Determined, Kadri is preaching patience and blaming bad fortune. He took pride, for example, in the role he played in keeping top scorers Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov off the board in Tuesday’s loss.

Kadri says he’s not the least bit superstitious as his Selke Trophy ambitions and chances of repeating 2016-17’s 30-goal performance have begun to drift away.

“I’m not very frustrated or concerned at this point. I’ve been through things like this before. I can contribute in other ways. I can be a good teammate, I can help out defensively and still be an important player. It’s tough to do both,” says Kadri, whose overall totals (13 goals, 23 points, plus-3) are still respectable. “For the time I was able to do both, it was a great achievement, but I’m just looking for some puck luck right now.”

We must agree. The eye test and number crunching both prove this is simply a case of tough breaks in a fickle sport. Kadri has fired a team-high 38 shots on net during his famine without turning the light red, and many of those were Grade-A looks.

Nowhere was Kadri more snake-bitten than during the Leafs’ 3-2 Festivus victory in New York City. After snapping six shots on but not past Henrik Lundqvist and four more that went wide, Kadri aired grievance over one labelled puck that required video review before being ruled no-goal.

“His entire body was in the net. I don’t know where else the puck would be. I thought that was a goal,” Kadri allowed himself to vent, before conceding to inconclusive evidence and taking satisfaction in the W.

“How do you expect to score if you don’t get your chances? How? I’m getting D-men stacking pads, goin’ off toes … I don’t know what’s going on, to be honest with you.

“It’s crazy. Fifteen games ago, those were all going in.”

Ah, hockey.

Kadri’s offensive struggles are a microcosm of the Maple Leafs’, who have fallen to fifth overall in scoring and Thursday draw the stingy San Jose Sharks. The visitors roll into Air Canada Centre with the NHL’s second-best penalty kill and fifth-best defence.

Toronto, meanwhile, has cracked the three-goal threshold just thrice in its past 14 outings.

“It sucks a little bit, but you just gotta keep a positive mindset,” Kadri says.

“That’s the hard part. When you’re playing well and not getting the breaks and the puck luck you want, it starts getting frustrating. I think guys in here are pretty patient and pretty calm. We understand we can score goals so they’re gonna come in bunches. We just gotta keep playing the way we’re playing.”

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