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With Kadri and Komarov leading way, Leafs well-positioned to agitate Crosby

10/10/2014 01:05 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Nazem Kadri has been able to get under Sidney Crosby's skin before. Proof of that came on HBO's "24/7" show last year when the Pittsburgh Penguins star called the Toronto Maple Leafs centre a "dummy" and a "joke."

There were some expletives in there, too, as Crosby vented his frustration with Kadri to Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.

"I was matched up against him and I'm an agitator and I'm going to do anything I can to try and get him thinking about me and not the game," Kadri said. "I think it originally started with just a hit he threw on the boards and he thought I kind of embellished a little bit. Words were exchanged and that's really when it just all started to heat up."

With the Penguins in town Saturday night, the Leafs will be able to pester and annoy the reigning Hart Trophy winner once again. Not only does Kadri relish the opportunity to mess with Crosby's head, noted gnat Leo Komarov could also be a bother.

"With Sid, you've got to play him hard," Phaneuf said Friday. "I think that when you play him hard and try and limit his time and space, that's when you can do a good job of making him move the puck and not hold onto it and create chances because when you give him time he's going to create things."

Komarov is the kind of player the Leafs missed last season when the forward was in the KHL. Already through the pre-season and one regular-season game, teammates appreciate his antics.

"You almost laugh to yourself sometimes on the bench when you see him flying around out there and guys are getting all upset," winger James van Riemsdyk said. "He looks like a little angel out there, but that's far from the case. I think that's why you see a lot of guys try to whack him and take runs at him and he just keeps on ticking."

Van Riemsdyk said opponents aren't sure what to say to Komarov because they don't know if he speaks English. Plus, Komarov doesn't add any banter and does it all with a straight face.

"That's part of why it's so funny," van Riemsdyk said.

Kadri said he started agitating as soon as he started playing contact hockey as a kid because of a lesson his father taught him.

"He said if things aren't going your way, you go out and try and establish yourself, get into the game with a big bodycheck or a verbal encounter or something like that just to get your emotions to where they want to be," Kadri said. "When I'm at my best, I can agitate and have other guys worry about me. And at the same time I can go out there and make a play and make a difference and have an impact on the game."

That would be welcome against the Penguins, who showed off plenty of firepower in beating the Anaheim Ducks 6-4 on Thursday night in coach Mike Johnston's debut behind the bench. Crosby had two goals and an assist.

"He came back with a bang last night," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "He was a dynamic force to handle."

Crosby isn't quite a three-point-a-game player all-time against the Leafs, but he has 20 goals and 23 assists in 28 previous meetings. In 13 games at Air Canada Centre, Pittsburgh's captain has 17 points.

"He's a good player," Kadri said. "Anything to get him off his game is going to be good with us."

If Carlyle continues what he did against the Montreal Canadiens, the top line of van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Kessel could again draw the assignment of the opponent's stars. In this case it would be Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Patric Hornqvist.

"If we play against them we're going to have to play good defence and try to turn it into a bit of offence," Kessel said. "You want to have the puck. If they have the puck it's tough to defend them."

The Leafs' mantra in defending Crosby has to do with keeping someone as close to him as possible.

"Crowd him as much as possible, don't give him the freedom that he enjoys, and when you do give him freedom he's a very dangerous player," Carlyle said. "He might be the most dangerous player in the league."

Notes: Right-winger Richard Panik (whose surname is pronounced PAWN'-ihk) skated on the Leafs' fourth line alongside Daniel Winnik and Peter Holland in his first practice since being claimed off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Panik expected to play there against the Penguins, Matt Frattin figures to be a healthy scratch. ... Injured blue-liner Cody Franson (knee) reported more progress, but Carlyle said the defenceman is more likely to be available Sunday against the New York Rangers rather than against Pittsburgh. That would mean rookie Stuart Percy remains in the lineup for his second career NHL game.

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