How quickly things can change.
Three weeks ago Nazem Kadri scored a hat trick in a 4-0 Toronto Maple Leafs victory over the Ottawa Senators, a win that pushed them into fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings and catapulted Kadri into sixth in the NHL scoring race.
Kadri and Joffrey Lupul combined for eight points that night – they each had four – in what was arguably the 22 year old’s best performance in a Leafs uniform to date.
And Don Cherry felt like Kadri had earned some spotlight.
So having always been a Kadri advocate, Cherry pulled him out of the Leafs dressing room after the game and into the Coach’s Corner studio for an interview with Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean. One thing led to another and eventually a post-game chat led to a mini Leafs lovefest with Cherry standing alongside Kadri and Leafs enforcers Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr in the studio.
Before CBC could cut to commercial at the end of the segment Cherry laid a sweet smooch on Kadri’s left cheek something he’s famous for doing to Leafs great Doug Gilmour on the same post-game segment in the early ‘90s.
The problem? Kadri hasn’t scored since, which has some in the media referring to the smooch he received from Cherry as the ‘kiss of death’, and this is the point of the regular season when the Leafs need his offensive production most.
Toronto has lost their last two games by a combined score of 10-4 and a loss in Ottawa on Saturday night would drop them into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings and undoubtedly turn up the panic in this city, where it once seemed like the playoffs were a foregone conclusion.
Kadri told the Toronto Sun on Friday:
“We know how big this game is,” Kadri said. “We have to come out and take it to them.
“That doesn’t mean going out there looking to kill people and trying to cut off the heads of anyone you see. We just have to stick to our system.”
While it’s unlikely the Leafs will miss the post-season, it’s certainly not impossible. If they lose in regulation tonight and Winnipeg defeats the New York Islanders, the gap between them and ninth place becomes just three points.
That’s doesn’t mean the Leafs are pushing the panic button though. As defenceman Ryan O’Bryne told the National Post earlier this week:
“If you start the season and say, ‘Well, after 44 games we’re in fifth place in the Eastern Conference,’ you’re going to take that. So there’s no panic. Obviously we’ve had a couple of games where we’ve played not like how we wanted to play, but we need to get back to work. We need to get back to Toronto Maple Leafs hockey.”
Every team is going to go through ups and downs like this over the course of a season, it just so happens that the Leafs have fallen into a slump now and there are only four games left to recover. They need their top players, Kadri included, to help right the ship.
Maybe a pre-game kiss from Grapes would help reverse the scoring hex.