Should the Maple Leafs be more patient with prospect Nazem Kadri?

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nazemkadriunderpressure.jpgPressure can bring out the best in an athlete, but it can also be a very negative thing too. Especially for a young player still trying to learn how to adjust to all of the challenges that come with making the jump to the professional level.

You cannot find a bigger pressure cooker for a young hockey player than Toronto. The team has been an absolute mess since the lockout and haven’t had much young star power to cling to. (Just look at how Luke Schenn is going from an overly praised talent to someone who is starting to drop out of favor among the Maple Leafs.)

This explains all of the hysteria regarding 2009 first round draft pick Nazem Kadri’s tough times. Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun points out that Kadri was demoted from a line alongside NHL-level additions Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg to a combination of minor league-level players. He adds this very troubling quote from Leafs coach Ron Wilson and makes a hypothesis about Kadri’s struggles.

With Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell all in the fight for centre spots, Kadri has been less effective than all of hem.

“He needs to realize the battle he’s in,” Wilson said after the Leafs’ 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We’re not giving him the job. He has to outperform at least two or three of those four to earn a spot.”

[snip]

The KADRI QUANDARY

So what gives with the player that looked so offensively gifted a year ago? No fire. No flash. No fury. Kadri is clearly playing tentatively, which stifles his offensive skill. Case in point: On a first-period two-on-one, rather than taking a clear open shot, Kadri dished off to Versteeg with a telegraph pass that was far too late … Wilson has no choice but to look at options now. Versteeg has been flying in both of his pre-season games and can no longer be held back. Armstrong, meanwhile, is as advertised — a guy who will go in the corner and get the puck and needs to have a useful centre. To that end, changes are coming, starting with Friday’s return match with the Flyers. For one game anyway, Versteeg is likely to move to a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel while Nikolai Kulemin shifts to a unit with Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur … For most of the third period, Tim Brent replaced Kadri between Armstrong and Versteeg … Wilson on Kadri’s better play in the third: “Maybe when I didn’t have him on (that line), it lit a fire under his rear end and he realized I’m serious and I’m not going to wait for him to get going.” … Naz on Naz: “By all means I haven’t made the team yet. I’m not expecting anyone to just give me the silver spoon and just hand me a job.”

While many people are growing quite pessimistic about Kadri, noted Edmonton Oilers blogger Lowetide turns the tables and critiques the Maple Leafs for their impatience with young prospects.

I think Kadri will be a good player. He’s gritty, clearly has skill and could develop into a quality 2-way player. But not with Toronto. They get so damn impatient with these kids. It’s pretty fricking strange that they can’t figure it out, but there it is in all its glory. In the next 5 years, we’ll see Kadri struggle, get sent down and sent away for less than 100 cents on the dollar. Look at Luke Schenn, failing down the depth chart and perhaps one summer from being flushed. Rask, Steen, Colaiacovo, Boyes and on it goes.

Ouch, I imagine Leafs fans squirm any time they read the name “Tuukka Rask.” Then again, sometimes you need to learn the hard way, so perhaps Brian Burke and Wilson should take caution with a player who might just need a little breathing room and seasoning in the minors.

The problem is that patience isn’t found in large quantities when it comes to the Leafs.

The Predators are on a roll

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Filip Forsberg scored twice, including the tiebreaking goal in the third, and the Nashville Predators rallied from two goals down to beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 Sunday night.

Forsberg took a pretty feed from Ryan Ellis and one-timed it from the left circle past Darcy Kuemper with 6:36 left to put Nashville up 3-2.

It was Kuemper’s first-career loss in five starts against the Predators, who have won six of seven and wrapped up a five-game road trip with four wins.

Ryan Johansen added an empty netter for Nashville, and James Neal also had a goal. Pekka Rinne stopped 21 shots for Nashville.

Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville scored for the Wild. Kuemper, starting in place of regular starter Devan Dubnyk, had 28 saves as Minnesota fell into a first-place tie with Chicago atop the Western Conference.

Forsberg tied it at 2:20 of the third on a backhander past Kuemper’s stick side.

Minnesota started fast, pulling ahead 2-0 just 7:31 into the game. Granlund scored his 11th just over two minutes in. Pominville added his seventh five minutes later.

But seven games in 10 days appeared to catch up with the Wild in the second as Nashville outshot Minnesota 10-4 in the period and controlled the puck effectively.

Neal pulled the Predators to 2-1 with his team-leading 16th goal of the season 2:25 into the period.

Late letdown costs Canucks versus their old rivals from Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrtaes a third period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Sure, the Vancouver Canucks clawed back against an old rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Sunday.

But, thanks to a late letdown in regulation, they missed out on a great opportunity to move into a playoff position.

Down a pair of goals in the third period, the Canucks managed to come back in hostile territory. It started with a Troy Stecher power play goal. Bo Horvat, in the lineup two days after getting hit in the back of the head with a slap shot, tied it up for Vancouver just 46 seconds later.

But the chance for at least a single point slipped at the worst possible time, as Jonathan Toews scored with 1:18 left in regulation and then set up an empty net goal from Marian Hossa just a few seconds later to secure the 4-2 win.

The Canucks remain stuck at five wins — just five wins — on the road. They have the 29th-ranked road record in the entire NHL. Only the Arizona Coyotes have been worse away from home ice. So, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed down the stretch.

Vancouver had a chance to move into a wild card spot. Instead, they let the Blackhawks regain momentum as the period went on, and as a result, they remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture for right now.

Corey Crawford earned his 200th career win, making 26 saves. That’s a milestone night for him. For Toews, that’s his most productive night of the season, as he factored into all four Chicago goals, which, of course, included the winner.

This has been a difficult year for Toews. He’s been injured. His point production has been down.

Video: Giroux bumps scoring slump to give Flyers the OT win

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The Philadelphia Flyers needed a win.

So overtime against the New York Islanders seemed like a perfect time for captain Claude Giroux to bust his scoring slump.

Without a goal in his last 12 games, or since Dec. 21 before the holiday break, Giroux finished the Flyers comeback with an overtime goal to give Philly a 3-2 victory on Sunday. Jakub Voracek did great work along the boards to force a turnover from John Tavares, and Shayne Gostisbehere followed up his chance with a quick pass to a wide-open Giroux at the top of the crease.

That comeback win — Philly trailed by two goals early in the second period — bumps the Flyers back into a wild card spot.

Steve Mason had a big game in net for Philly, with 36 saves, while the Flyers fired 47 shots on goal toward Thomas Greiss, although it’s a difficult task trying to re-set and stop Giroux — an accomplished scorer in the NHL — on the doorstep.

Goals, goals and more goals! Blue Jackets outlast Senators for overtime win

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 19:  Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stops a shot from Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets as Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators skates back on defense during the third period on January 19, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Ottawa defeated Columbus 2-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Plenty of goals. A little three-on-three overtime. Seemed like an enjoyable afternoon of hockey between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Well, maybe the goalies, Mike Condon and Joonas Korpisalo, didn’t enjoy it as much.

The Blue Jackets prevailed for a 7-6 overtime win, with Cam Atkinson scoring just 1:09 into the extra period. That’s his 23rd goal of the season. Only two players — Jeff Carter (24) and Sidney Crosby (28) — have scored more goals than Atkinson this season.

With the win, and the Capitals sitting idle today, the Blue Jackets move back into a tie with Washington at 68 points in the fight for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

There were some anxious moments for Columbus.

Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski was hurt blocking a shot in the third period. He briefly left the game, unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he was helped off.

The good news: He only missed a few minutes, returning late in regulation and for the overtime as well, which is important for the Blue Jackets.

Despite his rookie status, and being a 19-year-old blue liner, Werenski is having an impressive season with six goals and 26 points in 45 games before Sunday.

“The thing that has impressed me the most about him is he’s a bit unflappable,” coach John Tortorella said earlier this season.

“He’s made a couple of huge mistakes in a game and he comes to the bench, shakes it off and then goes out and makes a great play. For a 19-year-old playing that position and the amount of time he’s getting in key situations with this organization, it’s pretty impressive.”