Nazem Kadri suspension: How Leafs lineup could change vs. Bruins without center

Nazem Kadri suspension: How Leafs lineup could change vs. Bruins without center

Nazem Kadri was suspended Monday for the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins after cross-checking B's forward Jake DeBrusk in Game 2.

The immediate challenge for the Leafs entering Monday night's Game 3 at Scotiabank Arena is finding a third line that can drive puck possession and score goals in Kadri's absence.

Kadri was the team's third-line center between wingers Patrick Marleau and William Nylander in the first two games of the series -- the Leafs and Bruins split those matchups in Boston. The most logical choice to replace Kadri down the middle is Nylander, and that's how Toronto lined up during Monday's morning skate.

Here are the lines used:

Zach Hyman--John Tavares--Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson--Auston Matthews--Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau--William Nylander--Connor Brown
Trevor Moore--Frederik Gauthier--Tyler Ennis

Nylander scored a goal in the Leafs' Game 1 win and picked up an assist on Toronto's lone goal in Game 2. There shouldn't be too much concern within the Leafs about Nylander playing well at center. He's certainly skilled enough to create scoring chances for himself and teammates.

That said, the Leafs have suffered in terms of puck possession and scoring output when Nylander has been with Brown and Marleau during 5-on-5 play. If Toronto is struggling to score in Game 3 and/or later in the series, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock should move Nylander to a line with faster, more skilled teammates.

The player who most needs to improve his performance in Kadri's absence is Auston Matthews.

The 21-year-old superstar is scoreless through two games of this series, and he tallied only one goal and one assist in seven games between these teams in last season's first-round matchup. Matthews has scored 111 goals over the last three seasons, so he needs to play much better for Toronto to have the scoring depth necessary to beat a deep Bruins team. Mitch Marner and John Tavares cannot be asked to carry most of the scoring burden, especially when they're always up against defensive stalwarts Patrice Bergeron and/or Zdeno Chara.

Kadri's suspension hurts the Leafs at one of the most important positions. His teammates, most notably Matthews and Nylander, must pick up the slack without him or the Bruins could send the Leafs home with another early playoff exit.

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Brad Marchand's evolution to playmaker is complete: 'They're the shooters and I am the passer'

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Brad Marchand's evolution to playmaker is complete: 'They're the shooters and I am the passer'

On a Saturday afternoon when Brad Marchand was the single most impactful player on the ice, it also underscored just how much he’s added to his game in the last few seasons.

The Boston Bruins' top left winger set up a pair of goals for the B's in their 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden, and one of those scores just happened to be the game-winning shorthanded goal in a standout second period.

The game-winner was a pure hustle play by Marchand as he hounded the puck retriever on a Red Wings power play, stripped the puck away in the corner after he took away both time and space with his effort, and then fed Patrice Bergeron all alone in front for the easy score against Jonathan Bernier.

It’s the kind of shorthanded strike Marchand and Bergeron have combined for dozens of times in nearly a decade of killing penalties together. The goal gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the second period and effectively changed the momentum of the game against a Detroit team that had been creeping along in on the scoreboard while clearly getting outclassed on the ice.

Then it was Marchand again in the third period dangling through Detroit defenders before dropping the pass to David Pastrnak for the tap-in for his 42nd goal of the season. It was the role of playmaker that featured most prominently on Saturday for the "Nose Face Killah" while making certain the Bruins weren’t going to lose to the lowly Red Wings once again.

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He did throw in a little hate as well when he pushed Robby Fabbri all the way to the Bruins bench before tossing him through the bench door and onto the hostile B’s bench area for a few laughs and angry words in the third period.

As entertaining as that was, it’s more amazing to realize the development of Marchand as a passer and playmaker. There was a time when No. 63 wouldn’t get on Boston’s top power play unit because the Bruins coaching staff felt he was more of a 1-on-1 playmaker than an effective disher, but those days back from the Claude Julien era are long, long gone.

Instead, Marchand ranks fourth in the NHL with 50 assists this season behind just Leon Draisaitl, John Carlson and Connor McDavid, and only McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and Blake Wheeler have more than his 165 helpers since the start of a 2017-18 season when the Perfection Line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak really started skating together.

Marchand is happy to play the role of playmaker rather than goal-scorer as he’s done with four assists over the last couple of games. He’s also on pace for 32 goals this season and draws all kinds of defensive attention when he drives to the net. Those dangles through opposing defenses open up passing lines for linemates in Bergeron and Pastrnak that don’t need a lot of room to score goals, and then the goals from the top line follow closely behind.  

Add it all up and it’s a productive, successful Perfection Line formula for the Black and Gold generated by Marchand’s playmaking when all three forwards are operating at highest efficiency. It’s all changed from the time when Marchand was Boston’s biggest goal-scoring threat prior to Pastrnak going supernova as an NHL superstar in the last few seasons.  

“Before Pasta came along on our line, it was the first thing I was looking to do when I got over the blue line was to be the shooter. It worked. But with Pastrnak and Bergeron being on the line and their tendencies being similar, they’re the shooters and I am the passer, and I am fine with that,” said Marchand.

“It’s obviously worked. A lot of our plays are geared toward that. Obviously, there’s a time and place for shooting and passing, and it’s about trying to read that. But they’re both very good at putting themselves in position on almost every play to get shots off. I’m just going to give it to them and they’ll put it in the net.”

Really it comes down to watching what makes the Perfection Line so difficult to stop, and it comes down to good hockey simply finding the open man when defenses show extra attention to any of the three players.  Each of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak can score goals with precision skill and flawless execution, and each of them can make offense happen with creativity, smarts and excellent hands.

It’s part of what makes them the NHL’s most dangerous forward line, but it also feels like Marchand has taken his passing and playmaking to the highest level of the last few years to cultivate that line’s greatness.

“I think it’s the whole line. What makes them so good is you can’t just say ok, we’re going to take [Marchand’s] shot away, his passing,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think they all do it well. I think they can all score goals, they can all make plays.”

With 23 games left to go in the regular season and 50 apples already in the books, it seems automatic that Marchand is going to surpass his career-high of 64 assists set last season on his way to 100 points again this year.

As he enters another one of his patented hot streaks with two goals and seven points in seven games this month, the 31-year-old Marchand looks ready to set new career highs in both assists and points this year as his game gets better and more evolved with each passing season.

Important Bruins win against troublesome Detroit: 'We wanted to make sure we got a win today'

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Important Bruins win against troublesome Detroit: 'We wanted to make sure we got a win today'

BOSTON – With a pair of losses to the NHL’s worst team this season and less than two months remaining in the regular season, it was ultra-important for the Bruins to finally take care of business this weekend with a third chance against the Red Wings.

They did just that in fine all-around fashion with a 4-1 victory Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, where they got contributions throughout the lineup and truly dominated Detroit while outshooting them by a 41-26 margin in the victory. This time around the Bruins were a little more well-rested than they were in last Sunday’s loss to the Red Wings in Detroit, and they were able to execute better in the key situations throughout the game.

The B’s actually handed the Wings a one-goal lead after a first period they otherwise utterly dominated, and then stormed back with three goals in the second period as Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron and Charlie Coyle notched the scoreboard for the Black and Gold. They got David Pastrnak’s NHL-leading 42nd goal of the season in the third period as well, and that was more than enough to beat the woeful Red Wings and keep pace with a Tampa Bay Lightning team that won their 10th game in a row on Saturday night.

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If the opposite had happened and the Bruins had finally succumbed to the Bolts in the Atlantic Division due to another loss to the lowly Red Wings, there would have been hell to pay. Thankfully for them that didn’t happen at all and the B’s still barely hold down first place ahead of the hard-charging Lightning.

“We wanted to make sure we got a win today. We had a couple of losses to them this year [and] we wanted to make sure we took care of business in the right manner. I think everyone was involved today so it was a good hockey game in that regard. We didn’t steal anything,” said Cassidy. “That’s a good way to hit the road, feeling good about your game. I think it’s just an extension of what we’ve been doing the last two, three weeks, ten games let’s say.

“Again, different guys [were] contributing — our top guys, they do their thing. But I thought everyone sort of pulled on the rope [against Detroit]. I thought [Charlie] Coyle’s line did a good job of establishing O-zone possession time and had a big influence on the momentum shifts for us.”

Earlier in the season, it appeared that games against bottom feeder teams like Detroit were traps of the highest order for the Bruins. At times their focus waned and it was clear they didn’t generate as much energy against lowly teams like Detroit, New Jersey, Chicago and Los Angeles, and that led to wasted opportunities for points against much lesser opponents during their stretch drive.  

Now the Bruins have won eight of their last nine games and continue to play with great focus, energy and effort while rounding their game into form for a stretch run that’s going to be challenging for everybody over the final 23 games.