Connor McDavid was held pointless in his first NHL game at the Air Canada Centre, thanks in large part to the play of Nazem Kadri.
Nobody was talking about Nazem Kadri coming into the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night, what with all the chatter about Connor McDavid playing his first NHL game in Toronto and going head-to-head with 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews for the first time.
But Kadri was a relevant topic of conversation after the proceedings. All he did was shut down McDavid, or at least limited him to four shots and no points, and was pivotal on the offensive side of the puck with two goals, including the overtime winner. To say he ran roughshod physically over McDavid would be a bit of a stretch, but let’s just say Kadri let McDavid know he was there. (Obscure Slap Shot reference.)
Kadri’s name was also on Todd McLellan’s lips. The Oilers’ coach accused Kadri of some nefarious strategy on his star player on the overtime game-winner, saying Kadri should have been penalized on the play. “The league will have a great teaching clip for holding,” McLellan said. “After watching it again, Kadri made a real good veteran move on Connor. He reached out and slung himself forward and propelled himself into a hole. Initially, I didn’t know that. That’s how quick it happened. I was looking to see if there was any type of interference or offside and that’s what our guys were unhappy about.”
Take a look for yourself. Looks as though Kadri simply pushed off with his left hand and overpowered McDavid.
And it wasn’t the first and only time McDavid was manhandled on the night. On Kadri’s first goal, which opened the scoring at 1:29 of the first period, the Oilers were outnumbered in their own zone in part because McDavid was wiped out along the boards by Toronto defenseman Roman Polak after Oscar Klefbom’s egregious giveaway.
The Leafs did show a physical side to their game, registering 34 hits in the game and resorting to the time-tested tradition of going after the other team’s star with an extra hit here and a shove there. But, in reality, it certainly wasn’t over the top. Yes, the Leafs leaned on McDavid, but it wasn’t as though they were obsessed with taking runs at him.
“You don’t want (McDavid) to walk all over you,” Kadri said. “Certainly he’s a player capable of doing that. He can embarrass you when he gets time and space so I just tried to limit that from him and stay on top of him as much as I could.”
Leafs coach Mike Babcock acknowledged that he thought his team’s physical approach to neutralize McDavid wore the Oilers’ star down. “You jam a guy out there every shift, and three in a row, stuff like that, hard to have the same pop.”
McLellan said the physical play against McDavid is nothing out of the ordinary. “He sees that quite often,” McLellan said. “Their team did a good job on him, yet he had some good looks, but it just didn’t go for him tonight. But it’s not the toughest assignment he’s had.”