RALEIGH — Nazem Kadri dipped his toe — or in this case, the butt end of his stick — over the line on Wednesday night, and the Maple Leafs centre was adamant it won’t happen again.
Oh, Kadri is not going to stop being the kind of hockey pest who loves to skate to the edge, peer over and wonder what he might do next to irritate opponents. It’s what makes him effective, along with his impact in both the offensive and defensive zones.
But when Kadri accidentally struck the face of a penalty-box official at the BB&T Center with the end of his stick toward the conclusion of regulation in the Leafs’ game against the Florida Panthers, Kadri knew he was in the wrong.
“I feel terrible about it,” Kadri, who was not available to reporters following the game, said after the Leafs practised at the PNC Arena on Thursday afternoon.
“I kind of got out of control. I didn’t even realize I hit him, to be honest with you, until I saw the replay afterward.
“I must have apologized to him a thousand times in the penalty box. Hopefully he forgave me. I tried reaching out to him and I’m going to send him something just to solidify my apology. But I’m sincere about that. I lost control and that won’t happen again.”
Kadri smoked the penalty box official in the face with his butt end during his hissy fit. Box official was clearly not happy about it. pic.twitter.com/LjV5hMvyN8— Shayne Pasquino (@shaynepasquino) November 23, 2017
Kadri said he had not heard from the National Hockey League regarding the incident, calling it “a total accident.”
The London, Ont., native owned up to taking a retaliatory cross-checking penalty late in the game with the score 1-1, which led to his frustrations in the box. Kadri took a couple of cross-checks, including one from Panthers defenceman Mike Matheson, that were not called.
Kadri was not looking for a back door out of the dressing room on Thursday when he stopped to speak to a small group of reporters. His penalty did not directly influence the outcome of the game, as the Leafs killed it off before losing 2-1 in a shootout, but that didn’t matter much.
“It was stupid, there is no question about it,” Kadri said. “After you come to your thoughts in the penalty box and you start to think about how irrational it was, there is no excuse for it. Were there a couple of incidents that happened beforehand that led to me acting that way? Sure. But I still have to keep my composure.”
Kadri goes to the box pic.twitter.com/GZ0BTfn1SY— Flintor (@TheFlintor) November 23, 2017
That lesson has not always come easily to Kadri during his time in the NHL. There have been suspensions assessed by the NHL (and by the Leafs) and Kadri has been fined for diving in the past, but the 27-year-old generally has steered clear of bad behaviour the deeper that Mike Babcock’s tenure gets as Leafs coach.
Babcock doesn’t need to say publicly he’s in Kadri’s corner. That’s clear with the manner in which Babcock has worked with Kadri to ensure the Leafs’ first-round pick in 2009 is getting the most out of himself every shift.
“You can’t cross the line,” Babcock said. “When you’re on the line sometimes you cross it and you feel bad. But you can’t put yourself in front of your teammates. And he knows that.”
Then, Babcock added: “I like Naz.”
As Babcock should. In the three games Auston Matthews has played since returning from an upper-body injury, the coach has been pulling all his strings to find consistency with the lines, and it’s likely that Matt Martin will be a healthy scratch, barring something unforeseen at the morning skate on Friday, when the Leafs take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
Through the juggling, Kadri has been there every night, running his points streak to a career-high eight games. In that span, Kadri has five goals and four assists. Overall, Kadri’s 20 points are second among Leafs to Matthews’ team-best 21.
“There are positives,” Kadri said. “I’m just going to continue playing that way. I play on the edge, and that’s how I play my best and that’s never going to change.
“Sometimes you can keep your emotions in check. I play with passion and that’s what happens sometimes, you let that get the best of you (as Kadri did in Florida). But most often, that is not going to happen.”