Toronto's No. 1 centre's job belongs to Nazem Kadri, the Maple Leafs' second leading
scorer last season. For what it is worth, he did not play well in a 4-0 loss to
Vancouver on Saturday and will need to step it up before his team's next game Friday against New Jersey.
Well, Nazem Kadri wanted to be the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-line centre.
The job seems to be his for the foreseeable future. He got it by default.
Kadri was bumped up to the first line from the third after Tyler Bozak went down with a lower body injury Oct. 25 and has responded quite favorably. Kadri had two goals and five points in three games heading into Saturday night's encounter in Vancouver and many wondered why he wasn't driving the bus for the first line in the first place.
Now the pressure has been ramped up and the No. 1 centre's job belongs to Kadri, the Maple Leafs second leading scorer last season. For what it is worth, he did not play well in Vancouver and will need to step it up as his team has five days off to prepare for a home encounter against New Jersey next Friday. He wasn't alone.
"It was a terrible game for us," Carlyle said. "Probably the worst game we have played this year."
An obviously perturbed Carlyle was asked why that is and he offered, "If I had the answer for that I'd tell you. I'm very frustrated with our group right now and with the way we played."
Centre David Bolland -- arguably the Maple Leafs' MVP through the first 14 games with his inspirational two-way play -- was lost to the team with a leg laceration. Bolland was injured when the Canucks' Zack Kassian accidentally clipped him with the blade of his skate as the two battled for a puck in the second period. Bolland had six goals (two game-winners) and 10 points in his first 15 games with Toronto.
So the Maple Leafs lose an important player in Bolland and the game, a 4-0 decision for the Canucks who have now beaten Toronto 11 straight times. The defeat drops Toronto to third place in the Eastern Conference with a 10-5-0 record and comes after wins in Edmonton and Calgary.
Toronto's top scorer Phil Kessel got into his second career fight, if you can call it that, when he dropped his gloves in the first period against Vancouver's Alex Burrows in the first period. Kessel has had his share of altercations this season starting with the first exhibition game in London. He had been suspended for hacking Buffalo's John Scott, who attacked him in the pre-season and it seems clear he wants his opponents to know he is no longer an easy mark. Kessel isn't likely to keep opponents up at night worrying about how he'll punish them, but you can't blame a guy for standing up for himself not matter how silly it looks.
The Maple Leafs had their customary bad start to the game, allowing the Canucks the first 11 shots on goal. It wasn't until 8:17 that Kessel registered Toronto's first, a snap shot from 15 feet out that Roberto Luongo snagged easily. While the Maple Leafs battled back to register a respectable 11 shots on goal in the first period, it was seven fewer than their goalie James Reimer faced.
At the end of the night the Maple Leafs were out-shot 47-21.
Asked about being out-shot night after night, Carlyle said, "That's the theme and we're not happy about it."
For a team that had the fifth highest goals-per-game ration entering the game, being consistently out-shot is getting a little tiresome. The Maple Leafs have managed to dig themselves out of a hole time and time again this season, but their slow start did them in Saturday night.
Left-winger Mason Raymond made his return to British Columbia where he spent his first six NHL seasons playing with the Canucks. The speedy Cochrane, Alta., native had 25 goals and 53 points for the Canucks in 2009-10, but suffered a serious vertebrae compression fracture in his back that knocked his career off the rails. His production dipped and the Canucks did not re-sign him when he became an unrestricted free agent last summer. Raymond signed with the Maple Leafs and has been a pleasant surprise scoring five goals and 11 points in Toronto's first 14 games. In his return to Vancouver he played 25 shifts with 19:17 ice time and two shots on goal with no points. He was minus-1 in an otherwise unspectacular outing.
Teenage defenceman Morgan Rielly also returned home to play his first hometown NHL game. Rielly played himself onto the roster with an exceptional training camp and has played well enough to convince the Maple Leafs brass to keep him beyond 10 games and sacrifice a year off his entry-level contract. He played 14:14 and was a minus-3. Ouch!
Left-winger Nikolai Kulemin returned to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 2, the second game of the season when he suffered an ankle injury. It was one of those deals where he could have continued to play, but there was a strong chance that the injury wouldn't heel quickly or properly. With the Maple Leafs hoping to go deep into the playoffs they felt it was better to have Kulemin sit for a few weeks early in the season and make sure he is ready for the long haul. Kulemin was barely noticeable in the game playing 15:53. He did have three hits.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.