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NEW YORK – HBO wanted Nazem Kadri to wear a microphone for a matchup with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins last week at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, but the 23-year-old politely declined. “Thank God I did because I was a mouthpiece,” said Kadri with a large grin. Kadri went toe to toe with Crosby that night – a 3-1 loss – jawing all evening with one of the greatest in the game. He had no trouble feeling like he belonged on the same stage as a player of Crosbys status, but with more challenging competition and significantly less luck than a year ago, he has found life considerably more difficult this season with the Leafs. Kadri had a scintillating 35 points through the first 34 games of last season, but through the same number of games this season he has a mere 22, still respectable but not quite at the electric level of his first full campaign in the NHL. Why the change? For one, quality of competition has increased for Torontos 2009 first-round pick. Because of injuries down the middle to Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland, Kadri has played higher in the Toronto lineup than he did in the lockout-shortened 2013. Since the start of December in fact, he has been paired with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk on the top line, an audition which has presented its fair share of challenges. Kadri began with a bang, scoring twice against Dallas on Dec. 5, but since that point he has tallied just three points in nine games, the No. 1 unit unusually quiet through the first three weeks of the month. “Youre playing against a lot of good players,” Kadri told the Leaf Report before a Monday date with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. “Youve just got to be consistent night in and night out basically.” Kadri was placed in an optimal role for success a year ago. Tucked in behind Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski on the depth chart at centre-ice, he lined up often against third and fourth lines, also rarely if ever squaring off against the oppositions top defensive pairing. And he took full advantage, totalling 44 points in 48 games, his skill often too much to handle. But with Bozak sidelined by an oblique injury until at least the end of December, Kadri, playing with the Leafs top-two scorers, has gotten the oppositions best just about every night. On Saturday against the Red Wings, he was held without a point or even shot on goal by Detroits top pair of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. “Hes a young player still cutting his teeth to become a higher level first line, second line centre, whatever word you want to describe an offensive player,” Randy Carlyle said of Kadri prior to the 5-4 shootout loss to the Wings. “Were asking a lot of a young player right now where last year we were able to use Nazzie more as a third line option and protect him from having to play up against the top two lines of other hockey clubs.” “Its everything I expected it to be,” Kadri said of the top line challenge. “Sometimes the puck swings your way some games, but defensively I think Ive really taken strides in the right direction. I know when youre doing everything else well those points are going to start to come.” Unlike last season, the pucks havent swung in Kadris favour very often so far. No player in the league had better fortune in 2013. The Leafs boasted a 15 per cent shooting percentage when Kadri was on the ice in five-on-five situations last season, the best mark of any player in the league. With luck on his side, Kadri accumulated 82 per cent of his overall at even-strength, his 36 points leading the team. Those numbers have predictably regressed this season. The Leafs shooting percentage with Kadri on the ice in five-on-five situations has dipped to 7.8 per cent, the 196th best mark league-wide. His offence at even-strength has fallen in tow, now counting for 59 per cent of his total attack. In spite of the elevated competition and predictable dip in luck, Kadri has still had a productive second season to date. He is on pace for 24 goals and 52 points, numbers about in line with those of a good second-line centre. Still quite young despite what seems like a lengthy tenure in Toronto, there remains plenty of room and opportunity to grow. (The faceoff circle remains one obvious point for improvement. Kadri has dipped to 42 per cent on the draw, the fifth-worst mark of any regular.) And if anything, his experience as the Leafs top centre – which will come to an end as soon as Bozak returns from injured reserve on Dec. 29 – should prove beneficial as a learning experience, a bar for Kadri to aspire to reach someday. “You just learn to be more responsible,” he said. “They rely on you more and I feel like thats making me a better player. Especially with how young I am, Im being able to develop with the best of the best and I think really thats the most important thing.” Wholesale Soccer Jerseys For Sale . Therrien would not confirm his lineup for the game, but he did have the same line combinations practicing together for the third straight day which is usually a pretty good indication of what the lineup will be. Soccer Jerseys Sale . Rudy Gay made the tying basket in regulation and a 3-pointer in overtime that gave Sacramento the lead for good, and Fredette scored a career-high 24 points to help the Kings beat the Knicks 106-101 on Wednesday night. http://www.chinajerseyssoccer.com/ . Johns, N.L., to Thunder Bay, Ont., after a deal was announced to build a new $106-million "event centre" in the Lake Superior community. Clearance Soccer Jerseys Online . Louis Blues brought in the premier unrestricted free agent centre, and did it without breaking the bank. Cheap Nike Soccer Jerseys . The 25-year-old McIlroy, who is from Northern Ireland, was eligible to play for either Ireland or Team GB when golf makes its return to the Olympics in Brazil for the first time since 1904.TORONTO -- Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Thursday that hes confident hell have financial flexibility should he need it later in the season. Anthopoulos, who held a media availability before his team opened a four-game series against Kansas City, was asked about an online report by columnist Peter Gammons that quoted him saying the team is "pretty much maxed out" in terms of payroll. "Were at our number to start the year," Anthopoulos explained to reporters. "Thats fair so I dont think it varies from anything else weve ever said." The Blue Jays, who have a payroll of about US$135 million, dont have a locked-in salary ceiling. If a situation presented itself, it appears there would be room to heighten it if needed. Toronto has been one of the surprises of the American League this season, rising to the top of the East division and taking a nine-game winning streak into Thursdays game. Talk of potential upgrades and loading up for a post-season run is already underway in the playoff-starved city even though the season is barely one-third old. Anthopoulos said while its still quite early, he does not expect to be hamstrung when it comes to finances. "I have every confidence that if we have a need come the trade deadline, which is obviously late July, I have every confidence that well have the resources to do that," Anthopoulos said. "I dont have any doubts about that at all." The teams purse strings were in the news last April when reports surfaced that some Toronto players discussed deferring portions of their salary to help land Ervin Santana. The free agent pitcher ended up signing with Atlanta for the same one-year US$14-million deal offered by the Jays. But Anthopoulos stressed that if something came up in the next month or two, he feels the team could take on salary if required. "We may need to be creative, we may needd to do some things," he said.dddddddddddd. "But weve been able to add payroll when needed." One potential upgrade area is the starting rotation, which has improved significantly this season despite Brandon Morrow going on the 60-day disabled list and a variety of pitchers handling the No. 5 spot. Anthopoulos gave credit to his starters and said their performance will be key going forward. "I know the offence has been great, were hitting home runs and all that, its fun to watch," he said. "But we will go as far as the rotation will bring us, there is no doubt about that." The Blue Jays could get an in-house upgrade if Morrow is able to return to form. "Well have more of a report by the end of June," Anthopoulos said. "Hes going to be back around the all-star break and by late June, he should be going out on a rehab assignment. So I think it could actually time well." For now, Anthopoulos is focusing on preparations for next weeks draft. He expects GMs to pick up trade discussions once the selection process is complete. "Were not having any active talks at all," Anthopoulos said. "Were really immersed in the draft right now. But I do expect once that draft is over and we get to the Monday after the draft, I think thats when everyone is going to start making the calls again." The teams play over the next month will determine the GMs next move. But again, Anthopoulos doesnt believe money will be an issue. "I think if were in a good position at the beginning of July, well know the landscape a little bit more with what our needs are," he said. "I have every confidence in the world that I can have that conversation with (president) Paul (Beeston), and Paul has that conversation with ownership. "But one, we need to be playing well at that time and were still very far away from that (date)." ' ' '