TORONTO - Dallas Eakins is taking a tough-love approach in his tutelage of Nazem Kadri.
The Marlies stumbled in their season-opener against the Rochester Americans, losing 4-2 in American Hockey League action on Saturday afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum.
With Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke in attendance, Kadri managed to pick up an assist in his professional debut, but was also guilty of some weak plays with the puck early in the game that earned him an extended stay on the bench during second period.
Eakins was willing to give Kadri a pass on a couple mistakes, but wasn’t in the mood to watch more.
“You can turn over pucks like that in junior and I’m sure they put you back out on the ice, but you get two chances with me and you’re going to sit down,”Eakins said.“That’s your challenge as a professional forward. Coaches want you to enter the zone under control with speed, with the puck. But you’ve got to sense danger and know when you might make a hope play and that’s when the puck has to go deep.
“He decided he wanted to keep turning it over and I decided that I wasn’t going to watch it any more.”
To his credit, Kadri didn’t duck responsibility for how he performed, while also resolving to learn from his experience.
“I had a couple turnovers there that really shouldn’t have happened,”the 20-year-old said.“It’s all accountability, I have to own up to it and it’s not going to happen again, I’ll tell you that much.”
Bill Thomas, Nathan Paetsch, Michael Nylander and Clay Wilson all beat Marlies starter James Reimer, who was not at his best in the crease.
Toronto couldn’t find the net until it fell behind 4-0 on Wilson’s goal mid-way through the third period. Alex Foster followed that tally with one of his own just 20 seconds later to get the Marlies on the board while they were shorthanded. Then, with Reimer already on the bench, defenceman Simon Gysbers found the range with 4:53 to play for his first AHL goal, with Kadri getting an assist on the marker.
The other item of note from the game for Kadri came in the first period when he was the victim of a two-minute kneeing penalty by Eric Selleck.
Defenceman Keith Aulie quickly came to his teammate’s side, engaging Selleck in a fight.
“You don’t like to see that, especially with one of our young guys coming up and feeling out the league,”said Aulie, who is only 21 himself.“You want to make sure you protect him.”
Toronto failed to generate much in the way of chances against Rochester rookie starter Jacob Markstrom for most of the game, putting just 11 shots on goal through two periods. When the Marlies were able to squeeze a puck past the six-foot-three goalie, they were twice rebuffed by iron, with Marcel Mueller striking the crossbar late in the first, while blue-liner Danny Richmond hit the post early in the middle frame.
The Marlies failed to capitalize on four first-period power plays, which, according to Eakins, drained the club of some early momentum.
“I actually thought we came out of the gate very well and then we seemed to sputter through the power plays,”he said.
Rochester opened the scoring just over seven minutes into the game when Reimer couldn’t control the rebound on a point shot from Colby Robak, allowing Thomas to swat home the rebound.
The Americans padded their lead with two second-period goals, the first coming when Paetsch snuck in from the point to one-time a pass home from the slot. Nylander–a veteran of 920 NHL games who’s on loan from the Washington Capitals for the purpose of salary cap relief–then made a nice deke to his backhand on a 2-on-1 to beat Reimer up top.
Kadri’s presence didn’t do much to boost attendance, as 3,488 fans showed up to the 7,851-seat venue.
Notes: The Marlies have yet to name a replacement captain for the departed Ben Ondrus, who singed with the Edmonton Oilers organization in the off-season. ...The AHL is celebrating its 75th anniversary season. ...Burke was shaking hands and taking pictures with fans as they entered the building. ...The Marlies were 1-5-2 versus the Americans last year.