All eyes were on Nazem Kadri. They were always going to be on Kadri.
After signing a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs just before the start of training camp, Kadri responded with scoring Toronto’s first goal in a 4-3 preseason win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
“I know I have to go out and play well in each and every game. It will be a long season and quite a grind,” said Kadri, who starred in the Ontario Hockey League in the same Budweiser Gardens with the London Knights.
Kadri and Mason Raymond each had one goal and an assist while Troy Bodie and Paul Ranger also scored for Toronto.
Brayden Schenn and Nick Cousins set the pace for the Flyers with a goal and an assist apiece and Doug Clarkson also scored for Philadelphia, which trailed 3-0 before Clarkson’s goal.
Performing in his hometown, it was Kadri opening the offence as the Leafs scored three in 3:05 to manufacture an early 3-0 advantage. Kadri began a two-on-one rush inside his own blue-line, used a drag move to awkwardly put Philadelphia defenceman Hal Gill out of position then snapped the puck past Steve Mason.
“I had almost forgotten what it’s like to score in this building,” said Kadri.
Just 56 seconds after Kadri put the Maple Leafs on the scoreboard, Bodie, who split his AHL time between Portland and Norfolk last year and was signed as a free agent by Toronto in July, made it 2-0 by beating Mason in close. Bodie received his pass on the doorstep from 2013 first-round pick Frederik Gauthier.
The third Toronto goal displayed the speed of Raymond, who is with the Leafs on a tryout basis after 374 games with the Vancouver Canucks. He scored short-handed on a breakaway after stealing the puck at his own blue-line and out-raced Philadelphia’s Erik Gustafsson down the right-wing side.
“The puck hit his shin on the play,” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “Raymond has the type of speed where it’s going to be hard for anyone to catch him.”
Philadelphia would rebound with three consecutive goals, including Clarkson in the first and two more from Schenn and Cousins in the second.
After netminder changes by both clubs, Ranger welcomed Anthony Stolarz by converting a rebound on a give-and-go effort by Kadri and David Broll.
In 28 minutes of work, Toronto starter Reimer stopped 14 of 17, while counterpart Mason stopped 12 of 15. The Maple Leafs’ Christopher Gibson didn’t allow a goal in 32 minutes and was credited with 13 saves, while Stolarz was beaten in his first minute, but settled down to make 14 saves on 15 shots.
Carlyle was quick to point out post-game that there is a large difference between the first exhibition game and the regular NHL pace.
“I would give this game an overall average grade. We are trying to establish some of the staples of a hockey system here,” he said. “It is interesting to watch how some players separate themselves from the rest of the group.
“The NHL plays at another level and you can’t make some of the mistakes we did tonight in certain areas of the ice.”
Six former or current Knights dressed including Kadri, Dave Bolland and Ryan Rupert for Toronto, and Mason, Stolarz and Zac Rinaldo for the Flyers.
After winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago earlier this year — and a Memorial Cup with the Knights in 2005 — Bolland was traded to Toronto at the June draft table. On Sunday, he started the game alongside current Knight and Leafs draftee Ryan Rupert.
“Ryan has been working very hard and doing all the right things,” said Bolland. “He is on the right track to a pro hockey career. If he continues to do all the things the Hunters (London coach and president Dale and general manager Mark) say that will also go a long way in helping his career.”
These two clubs meet again on Monday at Air Canada Centre in Toronto as the Leafs tune-up schedule includes eight games over 14 days before opening the regular season Oct. 1 in Montreal.
The Flyers open their official schedule versus Toronto at home on Oct. 2.