Don’t expect Nazem Kadri to try to get fancy with Mitch Marner lining up beside him.
“My job really is simple,” Kadri said on Tuesday following Maple Leafs practice. “I just have to get open and be ready to be a shooting threat and hopefully cash in on the opportunity.
“I’m able to get in open spots and he can do his thing and be elusive on the ice and find the open guy and be the playmaker that he is.”
Putting Marner on Kadri’s right side — and dropping Leo Komarov to the fourth line — was one of many changes made by Leafs coach Mike Babcock during the half-hour practice at the MasterCard Centre. Kadri, with one goal and one assist in his past 20 games, desperately needs a spark.
The Leafs, who will be in Chicago to visit the Blackhawks on Wednesday and in Dallas to meet the Stars on Thursday, remain in a solid playoff position in the Eastern Conference. With 57 points, the Leafs are in third place in the Atlantic Division, 12 points up on the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings. Barring a complete collapse by Toronto, they will face the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, as much as Babcock likes the scoring chances the Leafs have created in recent games, the cold fact is they’ve won just six of their past 18. Mixing up the lines was long overdue, though Babcock indicated he will have Kadri and Komarov back together when the team returns home to face the New York Islanders next Wednesday.
“I’m trying to have more depth,” Babcock said of the changes. “I like Leo there (with Kadri) because he gives Naz a tightening about 10 times a game to keep him in line.
“We’ll see how it goes in Chicago. At home, they’re going to play together anyway. I’m looking to have more balance and more attack, especially on the road, when I don’t have last change. We have to try some things.”
Sent to the Toronto Marlies was Frederik Gauthier, while Kasperi Kapanen was recalled. Kapanen will skate on the fourth line with Komarov and centre Dominic Moore, who will play after sitting nine in a row as a healthy scratch.
Auston Matthews remained between Zach Hyman and William Nylander, while Tyler Bozak again centred James van Riemsdyk and Connor Brown.
For the second time this season, Matt Martin will be a healthy scratch.
Do the Leafs have to be reminded that the playoff cushion they have is not necessarily a luxury?
“I don’t think anybody in here thinks they are in Comfortville and I don’t think our game indicated that last night at all,” Babcock said, referring to the 4-2 loss against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
“I think we played hard and played well, we gave up very little to say the least, but we didn’t win the game. Now we have to dig in and win one in Chicago.”
Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, recovering from a lower-body injury, skated by himself on Tuesday morning.
Babcock, meanwhile, has joined heady company, as he was named on Tuesday to the Order of Hockey in Canada along with Danielle Goyette and Ryan Smyth. The three will be honoured officially at the Hockey Canada Foundation Gala and Golf on June 18-19 in London, Ont.
Babcock is the lone member of the IIHF Triple Gold Club, as he has won Olympic gold, world championship gold and a Stanley Cup.
Goyette, the head coach of the women’s hockey team at the University of Calgary, has won eight women’s world championship gold medals and three Olympic golds.
Smyth, known as Captain Canada during his playing days, won two golds and a silver at the world championships, and won gold at the Olympics and the world junior.
“A huge honour,” Babcock said. “I’ve never really thought much about anything like this. The other honourees (are) spectacular, congratulations. Humbled, to say the least.”