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Nazem Kadri vs Tomas Plekanec

The Leafs ended up with two second line centres in the playoffs. How did they do head to head?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The postmortems of the Leafs first round playoff loss will be about Jake Mistakes and Andersen’s terrible Game Seven. But the thing irritating me this morning was the performance, when he was in the game, of Nazem Kadri.

Kadri, who was kicked out about half-way through Game One and then suspended for three more games, returned for Games Five, Six and Seven and played a much more limited role in terms of assignments and ice time than was usual through the regular season. He had two assists, both primary and both at five-on-five, and he was on the ice for four goals for and three against. He had a very good rate of shots against overall, but participated in some of the most tepidly paced offence the Leafs are capable of producing.

With the removal of Kadri from the lineup, Mike Babcock slotted Tomas Plekanec into his place and never removed him. He had two goals and two assists, all at even strength and played very slightly more time per game played than Kadri. When they were both in the same game, they became the co-second-line centres.

The use of these two centres, who usually had Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner or William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson as wingers, was all about the matchup. Plekanec got Bergeron, and Kadri got a mix of the fluctuating second and third lines from the Bruins. Those lines included Rielly Nash, David Keijci and Noel Acciari at various times.

Leafs vs Bruins and Kadri vs Plekanec

Nazem Kadri Patrice Bergeron 7.55 3.02 5.86 34.00 1.02 0.98 0.99 4.76 17.20 100.00 1.82
Tomas Plekanec Patrice Bergeron 39.03 21.18 60.74 25.85 1.88 2.90 10.88 26.69 28.96 35.27 1.04
Nazem Kadri Riley Nash 12.98 13.72 10.36 56.98 2.00 0.00 5.53 6.94 44.31 100.00 1.19
Tomas Plekanec Riley Nash 15.12 16.55 9.45 63.64 0.92 1.06 7.94 5.40 59.49 45.36 0.86
Nazem Kadri David Krejci 16.30 6.26 18.30 25.50 0.00 0.00 2.28 8.21 21.73 0.00 1.00
Tomas Plekanec David Krejci 15.92 6.75 25.69 20.80 0.98 0.00 2.89 11.73 19.78 0.00 1.49
Nazem Kadri Noel Acciari 9.13 8.02 2.14 78.97 0.00 0.00 1.15 1.05 52.34 - 1.00
Tomas Plekanec Noel Acciari 8.53 11.03 8.39 56.80 0.00 0.00 3.13 5.02 38.40 100.00 1.00

That’s a lot to take in. But what I got out of looking those results over is the following:

  • As Mike Babcock said, no one had an answer for Patrice Bergeron’s line at all
  • Kadri’s very short span of time on that job looks good because of a fluke goal for and a huge PDO
  • Both Kadri and Plekanec handled Rielly Nash well
  • Neither of them had anything to say against Kreijci and by extension, David Backes and Rick Nash
  • They were just fine against Acciari, who is more of a depth player than anything else

The best that can be said about Plekanec is that he was no worse than Kadri. The problem is that Kadri only has a better overall Corsi result, which was still terrible, because he played more against the lower-level Bruins lines.

The issue here isn’t so much that Plekanec was better than Kadri as a sacrificial lamb against Bergeron, and he likely was, it’s that no one else produced good results against the Bruins second lines or their depth.

Kadri was off being sacrificed to whatever line had Kreijci and Backes on it and producing nothing offensively most of the time. The Bozak line was a total non-factor, and Auston Matthews had half a game. He was the only Leafs centre to consistently produce a decent offensive pace, both in terms of on-ice and personal shooting. His lack of personal goals obscures that he was the totality of the Leafs offence most of the time along with Hyman, Nylander and Brown. But the shots against, particularly when Matthews was on the ice against the Bruins toughest opponents, Bergeron, Kreijci and Backes, spiralled so out of control, he couldn’t be used in any meaningful way as a 1C or even a 2C.

All Bruce Cassidy had to do was wait for Matthews to be pinned in defensively and he could pop one of his top two lines on the ice, and it became a siege.

There’s a lot of contributing factors to these outcomes. Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey played a lot against the Bergeron line and were totally ineffective. Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev played a classic second pairing role in terms of teammates and competition and were stellar overall, turning in the best results on the team, notwithstanding any individual mistakes made in various games.

The series might feel totally different if Auston Matthews hadn’t had an on-ice shooting percentage of under seven percent and a personal one under five. But nothing mitigates his gift of epic levels of offensive-zone time to the Bruins.

The usage and the matchups didn’t work. Matthews returned results more like what Bozak usually produces than a 1C. Kadri couldn’t outdo the fading utility player that is Plekanec, and the defence couldn’t really help anyone too much. The Leafs three offensive lines withered away to half of one, and that’s not going to win you any games. The fact that they won three of them is a testament to the sheer depth of scoring skill on the team.

Who to blame? Well, the Bruins for a start. They did everything right, barring some poor lineup decisions a couple of times, and they got a lot more out of their second line than they had all season. The lack of centre depth on the Leafs and some of the coaching decisions played into this.

But I can’t help but come away from this with the feeling that the Leafs needed a strong 2C to support the very young and inexperienced top line, and what they got was Tomas Plekanec doing the best he could, largely in the same way Ron Hainsey was doing the best he can. One of the most important aspects of succeeding with a team swamped with so many really young players in key roles is to have players in the 24-30 age range performing at their best. The Leafs didn’t get that from Kadri or from their departing UFAs.

I’m not worried at all that Auston Matthews is bad or isn’t a leader or can’t handle being the top player on the Leafs. He’ll continue to grow and improve, just like the rest of the Leafs youngest players. I’m concerned that the number two man in the position the Leafs are weakest at just laid a giant egg.