The gap between the Devils and some of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference has never been more apparent than the games between them and Tampa Bay and against Toronto. Tonight they fell 7-2 to the Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center.
The Devils had one subtraction from their lineup and two additions. The team put goaltender Cory Schneider on injured reserve with an abdominal strain. In his place, Mackenzie Blackwood was recalled from AHL Binghamton. He would see action tonight following a potential injury to Keith Kinkaid that bears keeping an eye on. The other addition was Taylor Hall returning to the lineup tonight after missing two games with a lower body injury.
Toronto was coming in with two faces the Devils did not see in their trip there on November 9. Auston Matthews was injured when New Jersey visited the Leafs last and William Nylander was still holding out as a restricted free agent. Matthews is now healthy and Nylander signed a contract on December 1. They would both be in the lineup tonight for Toronto. Lucky Devils.
For the Devils, with Hall slotting back in up front, Drew Stafford was back as a healthy scratch joining d-men Steven Santini and Egor Yakovlev.
In goal, the Danish goalie Frederik Andersen went for the Maple Leafs, making 27 saves on 29 shots against. For the Devils, Keith Kinkaid started and played the first two periods, making 16 saves on 21 shots. He collided with Ben Lovejoy midway through the second and, though he made the save on the play, seemed a bit shaken up. That might not have been the reason he gave the net up to Blackwood, but it could have contributed. Blackwood, as mentioned, came on in the third period, making his NHL debut. He stopped eight of the ten shots he faced, including his first NHL save: a save on a breakaway by Zach Hyman. Not a bad start. He also became the first Devils goalie since Martin Brodeur to wear the number 29 in a game.
The Devils fell behind early, at 6:01 when John Tavares scored from Nazem Kadri and Matthews. Nico Hischier opted not to shoot on a 2-on-1 just prior to the play and had the pass broken up by the Leafs. Toronto then went down the ice with a 3-on-1 when Tavares scored. It was 1-0 Toronto.
The lead would double to 2-0 1:57 later when Matthews scored a controversial goal unassisted. He pushed Damon Severson into Kinkaid and, when Kinkaid was unable to hold on to a puck, Matthews was right there on the doorstep, all alone to sweep it in. Severson had tried to clear the puck from the crease with his hand, but only served to give it directly to Matthews. The Devils used their coach’s challenge, alleging goalie interference. The call on the ice of good goal stood. The explanation was that because Severson could play the puck, incidental contact with the goalie was allowed and it was a good goal.
One thing that Ken Daneyko brought up on the MSG+ broadcast was that Matthews pushing Severson in the first place could have been interference on Severson since he did not have the puck. But that went uncalled and the goal stood, it was now 2-0 Leafs.
The ageless Patrick Marleau would make it 3-0 at 13:38 when he scored from Kadri (who ended the game with three assists and was named the game’s third star) and Travis Dermott. The Devils could not clear the puck from the zone and Kadri centered the puck to Marleau. His initial shot was saved by Kinkaid but Marleau put the rebound by to triple their lead.
The Devils would get on the board late in the first period when Sami Vatanen scored from Brian Boyle to make it 3-1 at 18:44. Vatanen let a shot go from the point that just cleanly beat Andersen under the crossbar and down. It was a cannon of a shot and seemed to give the Devils some hope as the game was following a similar pattern to Friday’s comeback versus the Golden Knights.
The pattern looked to followed even closer when Mitch Marner scored just 1:45 into the second period. He scored when Tavares hit the crossbar and the rebound came right to him. The disappointing thing about this goal is that the Devils had spent the first 1:30 or so of the second period applying pressure in the Toronto zone but could not score. This goal put the Devils down by three again at 4-1.
With that assist, Tavares had his second point of the night, a goal and that assist. He was named the game’s second star. Auston Matthews, also with a goal and an assist, was the game’s first star.
Morgan Rielly made it 5-1 with 0.8 seconds remaining in the period when he scored on a nice shot from the point that beat Kinkaid clean. Kadri and Connor Brown had the assists on that goal. The blowout was on.
The Devils would gain a bit of retribution when Nico Hischier scored at the 14:47 mark of the third. Hall won a puck battle behind the Leafs’ net, came out from behind and whipped a pass to Nico. Hischier did not miss on this one, burying it to make the score 5-2. Kyle Palmieri had the secondary assist. There was little celebration on the Devils side of things, however.
Tyler Ennis would add two goals to cap things off for the Leafs, scoring at 16:28 from Brown and Par Lindholm and at 18:30 from Jake Gardiner and Brown to make it 6-2 and then 7-2, which was our final. Those were the first two goals let up by Blackwood in his NHL career.
So for the Devils, it was not a good night to say the least. On special teams, both teams were 0-for-3 on the power play as the Devils did not register a shot with the extra skater. The Leafs had one shot on the power play and one shorthanded. New Jersey actually finished the game on the power play as Toronto was called for delay of game with just about a minute to go in the game.
Statistically, the Maple Leafs out shot the Devils 31-29 while the Devils won 53-percent of the game’s faceoffs. The Devils also out hit Toronto 14-6. The Leafs had more blocked shots (nine to the Devils’ six) and the Devils had twice as many giveaways at 12 to the Leafs’ six.
Individually, Vatanen led all Devils skaters with 22:13 TOI (including 2:42 of power play time and 1:32 of PK time). Travis Zajac led all forwards with 19:05 of time on ice (2:12 on the PP/ 3:23 killing penalties). Shots on goal were led by Miles Wood with five, hits were led by Blake Coleman with four, blocked shots by Severson with two and takeaways by Hall with two.
Next up, the Devils will travel to Ohio on Thursday to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Devils have now lost ten of their last 12 games and will look to right the ship in Columbus. That will be a tough hill to climb as the Jackets are one of the better teams in the Metropolitan Division. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will have coverage for you right here.