The Devils rolled into Air Canada Centre in Toronto to take on a high-octane offensive Maple Leafs team that had the weapons to annihilate the Devils in a track meet. It was their first night game following two afternoon matinees and Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock thought that with two young, speedy teams, this one should be a good one.
In the end, though, it was the Devils who came away with the 6-3 win and the Devils who showed the offensive onslaught in the face of spending a lot of time in the penalty box. The Devils came into the game having scored ten goals on the year while the Maple Leafs had 19. For Toronto, that was their most goals to start a year (through three games) since 1917 when they were known as the Toronto Arenas.
But the Devils were riding high thanks to players like Jesper Bratt who, with five points in his first two games, set a team record. Other New Jersey Devils history would be made tonight, more on that later.
Injury-wise, Kyle Palmieri was back in the lineup, he did not want to miss what broadcaster Deb Placey was saying felt like a big game feel in October. Drew Stafford is still day-to-day with a lower body injury, he hopes to be able to go for Washington on Friday. Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout were the healthy scratches for New Jersey.
To the highlights, as there were a lot of them in a 6-3 game. New Jersey-native James van Riemsdyk gave the Maple Leafs the early 1-0 lead at the 8:33 mark of the first period while on the power play. Brian Gibbons had gone off for slashing at 7:24. Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the assists on van Riemsdyk’s third of the season.
But just as the public address announcer was letting the crowd know about that one, Miles Wood would tie things up. At 9:07, Jimmy Hayes kept the puck in the Leafs’ zone, off a strong forecheck from Wood, and rolled it around to Will Butcher. Butcher slid it across to Steven Santini who fired a puck on net that was tipped in by Wood to tie things at one.
Wood followed that up by giving the Devils the lead just a minute and a half or so later. That one came when Adam Henrique chipped one up towards Wood and it was mishandled by Leafs’ defenseman Calle Rosen. Wood grabbed the puck and beat Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen on the ensuing breakaway. It was 2-1 Devils. Will Butcher had the secondary assist on the play, giving him two points already on the night. Wood would go on to be named the game’s second star of the night by the media.
At the 11:30 mark of the first, Stefan Noesen took offense to a hit by a Leaf on his teammate and went after Matt Martin. They fought and Noesen would end up with the extra instigator penalty plus a misconduct. The Devils killed off the ensuing Toronto power play.
Dominic Moore of the Maple Leafs tied things up at 13:33 of the first to make it 2-2 going into the first break. He got assists from Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey.
The second period was when the Devils really got rolling. First, at 8:15. van Riemsdyk was called for slashing and the Devils got a look at a power play. With the extra attacker, Pavel Zacha connected for his first goal of the season at the 9:58 mark. It happened when Marcus Johansson sent the puck to the far point and Jesper Bratt fumbled it, but made a nice play to keep it in the zone and the play alive. Bratt skated deep and played catch with Johansson, who returned him the puck and then played tic-tac-toe to Zacha in the slot. Zahca buried a nice pass from Bratt and it was 3-2 Devils on the power play goal.
History would be made as the Devils made it a 4-2 score. It began at the 14:44 mark when John Moore was nabbed for a cross check against Tyler Bozak at the same time Zacha went off for hooking Rielly. The Devils had a full two minute 5-on-3 power play to kill off, but Brian Gibbons would see to that. Just ten seconds into the penalty kill, Adam Henrique won a faceoff deep in the Devils’ zone. Andy Greene went to clear it and banged it off the boards to Henrique. Henrique charged in with Gibbons on a 2-on-2 Gibbons shot home Henrique’s rebound to give the Devils a 4-2 lead on a very rare 5-on-3 shorthanded goal. How rare? The NHL began to keep this stat in 1987-88 and the Devils had never done this in the regular season. MSG Network statisticians would confirm that it had never happened in the team’s history in the regular season (since 1982-83) until tonight.
The Devils had actually turned the trick once before: in the 2000 playoffs, Scott Niedermayer scored a shorty while killing a 5-on-3 against the Florida Panthers. But this was the first time it happened in the team’s regular season history. The Devils would also kill off the rest of the 5-on-3 power play.
Going into the third period with the lead, the Devils would look to add to it. They did when, at 3:35, Blake Coleman struck unassisted. It happened when Coleman intercepted a Leafs clearing attempt off of a faceoff win deep in their zone. Coleman then shot from the top of the slot, beating Andersen under the left pad using Noesen as a screen. The Devils now had the 5-2 lead. Although the goal was officially unassisted, Gibbons did a good job pressuring the Leafs, forcing them into the interception and leading to the goal.
It was 5-2, but again the Devils went to the penalty box. This time Will Butcher was called for high-sticking at 12:22 and Santini went off at 12:59 for delay of game. The Devils had another 5-on-3 to kill, but would not be as lucky this time. Auston Matthews made them pay at 13:34 with assists to William Nylander and Patrick Marleau. That cut the lead to 5-3. On the night, Toronto was 2-for-8 on the power play. The Devils were 1-for-5.
But the Devils had one more in them to put the game out of reach. Pavel Zacha, the game’s first star, at 17:21 of the third, won a faceoff deep in the Toronto zone back to John Moore. Moore snapped one that Zacha tipped by Andersen to put the icing on the cake, 6-3.
And that was it. Cory Schneider played a fantastic game, keeping the Devils in it as he stopped 47 of 50 Toronto shots. The Leafs had a lot of power play time, leading to that gaudy shot total, but Cory kept the puck out of the net and was named the game’s third star of the night. Andersen made 25 saves on 31 Devils’ shots.
Next up, Friday the 13th. The Devils return home to take on the Washington Capitals in yet another test for a team that is 3-0-0 for the first time since three seasons ago (Pete DeBoer’s final year in New Jersey). We will find out then if the team is up for the challenge of Alex Ovechkin’s crew.