The term “living rent-free” is one of the most worn-out phrases on the internet, used primarily by fans of a particular team to illustrate in the laziest way possible the hold they have on the psyche of an opponent.
It’s dumb, uninspired, and should probably be put to rest as far as the online lexicon goes.
That being said, Nazem Kadri is absolutely living rent-free in the heads of every single member of the St. Louis Blues organization right now, from the front office to the on-ice roster right down to the custodial staff, with his Game 4 hat trick on Monday night finalizing the lease on the beautiful and spacious corner unit he’s occupying that boasts an ocean view, exposed brick, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
It’s quite lovely, actually. I hope I’m invited to the housewarming.
The Blues have no answer for Kadri in this series — both on the ice and in their own heads.
This supposedly battle-tested club, which boasts many returnees from their 2019 Stanley Cup championship roster, has been undone thus far by the play of one 30-year-old center for the majority of round two, routinely seeking revenge on Kadri after the whistles when they should otherwise be focused on evening the score between them.
It’s this complete breakdown in the series’ most heated moments that places the Blues on the brink of elimination, leaving a do-or-die matchup in a hostile building on Wednesday night as their last remaining hope to save their season.
This is what Kadri does best, really.
At the height of his powers, Kadri is a player capable of swaying an entire series seemingly on his own, blending his abilities as one of the NHL’s elite pests with a remarkable penchant for putting pucks in the back of the net to offer a package few can counter.
Funnily enough, Kadri hasn’t really engaged in the typical extracurriculars that fellow get-under-your-skin guys have done to annoy their opponents. He’s not licking guys’ faces or blowing in opposing players’ ears. Instead, Kadri’s secret weapon is a tad more conventional than all that: He’s just playing really, really good hockey.
And he’s doing it with a smile on his face.
The Blues can’t stand it. Not one bit. And their inability to find an answer for Kadri through Games 1-4 has allowed him to take control of the pace of play whenever he steps on the ice. Which, mind you, happens to be quite often.
The Avalanche have generated 69.09 percent of the available scoring chances during Kadri’s even-strength minutes to this point, completely overwhelming the Blues in the offensive end while dominating the possession game to the tune of a 64.33 percent share of the expected goals.
That’s an absurd chunk of the game’s running time to control during one player’s usage — especially when that player is among his team’s most heavily relied-upon forwards who averages nearly 19 minutes per night.
At five-on-five, Kadri tilts the ice in Colorado’s favor. Overwhelmingly, so. And when that isn’t quite enough, Kadri also does his best to give them an advantage, too, having drawn three penalties through the first four games to allow the Avalanche’s second-ranked power play, currently humming along at a 33.3 percent efficiency rate, to go to work.
The best part? Kadri has yet to earn a drop of red on his ledger thus far, taking a grand total of zero penalties of his own while demonstrating a renewed sense of control that, in previous years, was absent and held him back.
Remember, it was just last season that Kadri was handed down his third playoff-ending suspension in four years, earning the eight-game ban versus these very same Blues for elbowing defenseman Justin Faulk in the head on a blindside hit.
That prior version of Kadri was still giving in to the very pitfalls that have nearly ended the Blues’ season this time around. He so often prioritized a thirst for retribution and allowed the red mist of hockey’s biggest stage to cloud his otherwise valuable skills, keeping Kadri off the ice when his team needed him most and thereby earning himself a reputation that he’s still trying to shake to this day.
So far, he’s doing a pretty good job of changing that.
This time around, the script is flipped. Kadri is playing the precise brand of hockey that his most ardent supporters thought him capable of for so long — causing madness rather than succumbing to it, and swaying an entire series with his presence instead of his absence.
For so long, the conversation around Kadri seemed to center upon what he could accomplish “if he just didn’t step over the line”. Well, these playoffs have shown just what those accomplishments can be, all while Kadri has not merely toed the line in high-pressure situations, but actually drawn it himself.
The Blues, on the other hand, have been all too eager to leap over that line in order to show Kadri just how tough they really are. And that seems fine to him. Because, as of now, what they look prepared to find on the other side is an early start to the offseason.