The Devils kept pace with the high-powered offense of the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, but a costly mistake in the overtime period was fatal and the Devils lost 5-4 at Prudential Center tonight.
First some World Junior Championship news as no games were played involving Devils prospects, but Slovakia did beat Kazakhstan 3-1 and Team USA got back on track, doubling up Germany 6-3.
Now on to the Devils game tonight. It was the first game for New Jersey out of the Christmas break and they were coming off of a 7-1 clobbering of the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the first time that the Devils had scored seven straight in a game since two games in 2000, one at the Penguins that they won 9-0 and one at the Atlanta Thrashers that they also won 9-0. The Pittsburgh game was actually during the 2000-01 season (October 28) while the Atlanta game was during the 1999-2000 season (March 4). All of this information comes via Hockey-Reference.com. Toronto had also had a big win in their last game, beating the Hurricanes 8-6 last Monday as well.
Lineup news for the Devils featured Pavel Zacha, who ended a 24-game goalless drought on Monday. He left the morning skate early and also left the pregame warmups early. Both led to him being a game time decision. He was scratched in favor of Kevin Rooney. Connor Carrick was the other scratch for the Devils.
One other guy who did play tonight was Jesper Boqvist. He was injured in the Chicago game, but it turned out to only be a chipped tooth, albeit one that caused bleeding.
The goalie matchup featured Michael Hutchinson for Toronto and Mackenzie Blackwood for the Devils. Hutchinson made 24 saves on 28 Devils shots for an .857 save percentage. Blackwood was 32-for-37 for an .865 save percentage on the night.
The first two periods were a frenzy of goal scoring and Nico Hischier got the Devils up early when he scored just 4:33 into the contest. Kyle Palmieri made a hit behind the net, sealing a Maple Leafs player from the puck that really set the goal up. Palmieri got it to Jesper Bratt in the corner and he centered it to Nico in the slot. He took it and sniped it by Hutchinson. This goal was all set up by Palmieri as he really made the play to free up the puck. It was 1-0 Devils.
But the Leafs being what they are, they struck quickly later on in the period got back in and took the lead before the end of the first. It began at 16:56 when Toronto was on the power play. It was set up when Miles Wood took a double minor for high sticking. The Devils had not given up a power play goal in 15 attempts, but in the last of the four-minute power play, they let one in here. Morgan Rielly shot and Blackwood could not handle the rebound. Zach Hyman was right there to poke it in and make it 1-1. Jason Spezza had the secondary assist.
Toronto took the lead 19 seconds later at 17:15 when they worked the puck around to John Tavares up high. He shot and it was tipped in by Blackwood by Ilya Mikheyev. William Nylander had the other assist on the goal that made it 2-1 Toronto.
The Leafs ended up outshooting the Devils 19-9 in the first period, which equaled the most shots the Devils have given up in a single period so far this season.
But then the flurry of goals in the second period put the Devils ahead. This was kicked off just 1:42 into the second period when Nikita Gusev scored on the power play. Toronto was down two men as Mitch Marner was off at 1:27 for tripping Gusev and Jake Muzzin shot the puck over the glass at 1:33 to draw a delay of game penalty.
The puck was dropped back to Sami Vatanen at the point and he shot. The rebound came to Hischier in front. Eventually, it ended up on the stick of Gusev and he scored to tie things at two.
But the Leafs would get that one right back. At the 5:16 mark, Kasperi Kapanen skated full-speed up the right wing and took a bank pass from Alexander Kerfoot. He shot off the rush and beat Blackwood upstairs to make it 3-2 Maple Leafs. Tavares had the secondary helper.
From there it was the Devils who took over things. It began at 7:01 when Palmieri scored his team-leading 15th of the year. It came when Toronto failed to clear the puck from their zone and Palmieri grabbed the puck in the near corner. He skated to the middle of the ice and snapped a shot by Hutchinson. The Devils had had two other chances just prior to the goal. Hischier and Bratt had the assists on the goal. It was now 3-3.
At 10:11, the Devils would take the lead. The Devils stole the puck in their own zone and Palmieri and Bratt were off on a 2-on-1. Palmieri faked a shot and made a precision pass to Bratt, who put it upstairs over a prone Hutchinson. It was 4-3 Devils heading into the second intermission.
The Maple Leafs had one win in 10 games where they were trailing going into the third period, but they would tie things up at the 8:15 mark. It came off of the stick of Tavares on the power play. The Devils had taken a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 6:28 and the Leafs’ power play made them pay. They worked the puck around to Nylander at the near half wall. He faked a shot and made a no-look pass to Tavares, wide open at the side of the Devils net. It was a layup for him and it knotted the game at four. Tyson Barrie had the other assist.
A scary moment just prior to the end of the third period as Mikheyev was cut by a skate blade and immediately went to the locker room. Hopefully he is okay and does not miss any time.
Penalties would play a part in a heart-stopping finish. It began when Wood (holding) and Hyman (embellishment) went off with coincidental minors at 18:37. It was 4-on-4 after that, but then, at 19:31, Blake Coleman was sent off for slashing. That made it 4-on-3 in regulation. Once the matching minors ended, the Leafs were up 5-on-4. Then it was back to 4-on-3 once overtime began. Confusing, but in the end, the Devils killed everything off.
Overall, Toronto was 2-for-4 on the power play with six shots while the Devils were 1-for-3 with three shots. Almost amazingly, with the firewagon hockey on display at times, neither team managed a shorthanded shot on goal.
The game winner came in OT when Damon Severson, in front of his own goal, tried to sweep the puck behind the Devils net and, instead, put in behind Blackwood. Nylander, the last Leaf to touch the puck, was credited with the goal unassisted. Toronto had the 5-4 win on a regrettable, yet understandable, mistake by Severson.
Stats-wise, the Devils won 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Leafs by a wide margin (24-8), had more blocks then Toronto at 16 to eight and had more giveaways at ten to the Leafs’ six.
PK Subban led Devils skaters in ice time with 25:35 total (3:03 on the power play and 37 seconds on the penalty kill). Travis Zajac led the forwards with 20:51 of total ice (including 4:40 shorthanded).
Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri and Jesper Bratt each had a three-point night, as each had a goal and two assists. Coleman led the team in shots on goal with six, Sami Vatanen led in hits with four, Andy Greene led in blocks with four and Palmieri led in takeaways with four.
Next up for the Devils, a 5 PM ET puck drop at Ottawa on Sunday. In the meantime, keep an eye out for continuing World Juniors coverage tomorrow as we have Switzerland-Sweden and Russia-Canada on tap for you.