TORONTO—All it took was a subtle change of the forward lines to unlock some new-found offence.
Nazem Kadri picked up his fourth-career hat trick, and recorded a career-high five points, as the Toronto Maple Leafs doubled the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3 last night.
Kadri's line, consisting of Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner, combined for five goals and five assists in the win.
Since the trio was formed on Jan. 24 in a game against Chicago, Kadri has seven goals and eight assists, Marner has seven goals and five assists, while Marleau has three goals and four assists.
“My linemates contributed just as much as I did,” Kadri stressed.
“They found me, I just tried to get open, and the puck seemed to find me tonight.”
The production far exceeds what Kadri and Marleau managed with Leo Komarov—their regular linemate for a large chunk of the season.
“I'm not sure,” Leafs' coach Mike Babcock replied when asked about the lineup change.
“I used them together, Kadri and Marner, last year and they were no good together,” he noted.
“That's the beauty of having more players," Babcock added. "You move them around and once in a while you get lucky.”
Frederik Andersen made a career-high 54 saves for the Leafs (35-19-5), who went 5-0-0 on their homestand.
It was the first time they have swept a homestand of five games or more in franchise history.
“I had a clean view of most of the shots, and I think that was the key to withstand all of that,” Andersen said.
The Blue Jackets (29-24-4) recorded 50 or more shots in their third-straight game, making them the first team to accomplish the feat in the post-expansion era (since 1967-68).
Joonas Korpisalo made 22 saves in defeat.
The Leafs played much of the game without defenceman Jake Gardiner, who left after one period with a lower-body injury.
“I'm not exactly sure how it happened. He's got some kind of spasm or something like that,” Babcock said.
“He just couldn't get it to relax or whatever so they [Toronto's medical staff] wouldn't let him come back.”
Toronto opened the scoring when Dominic Moore scored his fifth goal of the season while on a 2-on-1.
With David Savard taking away the passing lane to Kasperi Kapanen, Moore took a backhanded shot and beat Korpisalo.
Roman Polak and Travis Dermott collected the assists at 4:38.
The Leafs added to their lead at 7:36 when Kadri cut around Koripsalo before using a screen to score his first goal of the game to make it 2-0.
James van Riemsdyk and Morgan Rielly drew the assists.
The Blue Jackets cut Toronto's lead in half at 18:21 when Nick Foligno received a centering pass from Alexander Wennberg and fired a backhander past Andersen.
Foligno scored his second goal of the game early in the second period. He received a pass from Wennberg on a 2-on-1 to beat Andersen.
Kadri replied with his second goal of the night at 8:03 to reclaim the lead for Toronto.
Rielly's centering pass went straight to Kadri near the Columbus net and beat Korpisalo with a one-timer to make it 3-2.
Toronto the restored its two-goal lead about two minutes later when Kadri centered a pass to Marner, who beat Korpisalo on a one-timer to make it 4-2.
Jack Johnson fired a slapshot from the left circle that beat Andersen and went off the post and into the net to cut the Leafs lead to 4-3 at 14:35.
Kadri completed the hat trick at 11:21 of the third, with Marleau and Marner assisting.
“I saw Pat in front and 'Naz' sneaking in backdoor,” Marner said of setting up Kadri's third goal.
“Lucky enough it got through.”
Marleau then scored an empty-net goal at 18:13.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Colorado blanked Montreal 2-0 and Florida edged Vancouver 4-3.