It has certainly been rough sledding for the Devils in this latest stretch of futility.
After leading the game all night, New Jersey fell 6-4 to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena following a late goal by Ilya Mikheyev and an Auston Matthews hat trick.
The Devils were without head coach Lindy Ruff tonight (as they will be tomorrow versus Toronto in Newark) due to the passing of Lindy’s father Leeson on January 28. Leeson was 88-years-old and our condolences to the Ruff family and all those who knew and loved Leeson. Alain Nasreddine will take over the Devils bench through the All-Star break just as he did when Lindy was in COVID protocol.
Tonight concluded the Devils’ three-game road trip and they were still looking for their first win. In fact, they were seeking their first road points since January 2 when they defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime in DC. Coincidentally, this was also the Devils’ final game of the month of January as tomorrow begins a new month.
The Devils scratches remained the same as the last few games with Mason Geertsen, Marian Studenic and Christian Jaros all sitting.
In goal, however, Jon Gillies got a rest as Akira Schmid was given his fourth NHL start – still seeking his first NHL victory.
Schmid made 27 saves on 32 shots against for an .844 save percentage. Schmid led in one of Toronto’s three shorthanded shots and stopped all three of their power play shots (although there is a caveat), At even strength, he was 22-for-26.
The caveat to the Leafs’ power play shots situation saw Ryan Graves get called for a cross-check with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Because the Leafs scored (we will, of course, get to the specifics of that goal later on), while New Jersey had pulled Schmid to even up the personnel, the goal was scored into an empty net. This shot does not count against Schmid since his net was vacated. Instead, that shorthanded empty netter iced the game for the Maple Leafs and upped the Leafs’ shot total to 33 shots for.
Toronto had nothing that complicated happen to them, but did start Jack Campbell, who made just six saves on nine Devils shots he saw for a .667 save percentage on the night. All of those shots came at five-versus-five.
Campbell was replaced midway through the first period with Petr Mrazek taking over for the remainder of the game. Mrazek stopped 19-of-20 for a .950 save percentage on the night. He was one-for-one while the Devils were shorthanded and four-for-four with New Jersey on the power play. He stopped 14-of-15 at full strength.
The Devils ended 0-for-3 on the power play for the night while the Leafs were 1-for-3.
This was the start of a home-and-home back-to-back as these teams will renew acquaintances tomorrow at the Prudential Center as the team’s head into the All-Star break.
It also marked Andreas Johnsson’s return to Toronto since his 2020 trade to the Devils and the Devils’ first visit to Toronto since January 14, 2020 (a 7-4 win for the Maple Leafs).
Pavel Zacha got the Devils scoring early and often. Just 47 seconds into the game, Toronto was caught in a change as Jack Hughes sped into the Maple Leafs zone up the right-wing side. Zacha, in the meantime, jumped onto the ice and Hughes found a passing seam to him. Zacha was all alone on the left side of the ice and had a ton of time and space to get his shot off. It ended up trickling by Campbell and into the cage to make it 1-0 Devils early.
Jesper Bratt had the secondary assist on the goal, which made his the first Devil to 40 points this season.
Amazingly, the Devils doubled their lead a little less than five minutes later at 6:20 gone by when Jesper Boqvist scored his second goal in two games. The play saw Janne Kuokkanen passing to Colton White at the point. White shot while Boqvist, in front of the net, jostled for position in front of the Toronto net and was able to grab the rebound and shoot around Campbell to make it 2-0.
No lead, however, is ever safe against an offensive powerhouse like the Toronto Maple Leafs, however.
It only took Auston Matthews and the Leafs 13 seconds to respond. Timothy Liljegren dumped the puck into the Devils’ zone for the hard around. Mitch Marner recovered as the Devils were pinned against the boards in their own zone and Marner was able to chip it Matthews in open space. Matthews got off a quick wrist shot that beat Schmid cleanly to cut the Devils’ lead in half at 2-1.
A few minutes later, at 9:10 gone by, the former Leaf Johnsson would restore New Jersey’s two goal lead.
Dawson Mercer chipped the puck off the boards on the left-wing sie to Johnsson after winning a board battle just inside the Devils zone. Johnsson was in on a partial 2-on-1 with Tomas Tatar. Tatar was a decoy and Johnsson shot himself, beating Campbell off the rush to make it 3-1 Devils. Mercer had the lone assist on the goal.
But again, with Auston Matthews, no Devils lead was safe.
Marner broke out with a nice pas to Matthews, who fed Morgan Rielly once Matthews gained the Devils zone.
Rielly skated up the left-wing boards and shot off the rush. Meanwhile, Matthews was going hard towards the net and used his incredible hand-eye coordination to bat the shot down and into the net behind Schmid. That made it 3-2 Devils going into the first intermission.
After a wild first period, the only goal scored in the second came off of the stick of Nathan Bastian with 7:33 gone by in the middle frame.
Boqvist took a sharp angle shot and used his speed to collect his own rebound down low. He moved the puck high to Ryan Graves who shot. His blast hit the back of a Toronto player’s leg. It bounced back to Bastian in the high slot and his shot beat Mrazek, who had taken over in goal for the Leafs back in the first period following the Johnsson goal.
Boqvist’s assist on the Bastian goal gave him his first two-point NHL game.
That made it 4-2 Devils. Toronto nearly cut that lead down again with 9:38 to go in the second when Schmid made a save on John Tavares. The play was reviewed by the Situation Room in Toronto to see if Schmid’s glove had been fully pushed over the goal line when he made the glove save.
The replay showed that it did not and there was no goal. It remained 4-2 Devils.
Schmid continued to play well following that stop when he was able to stonewall Alexander Kerfoot point blank late in the second period while the Leafs were shorthanded. He followed that up with two more saves before a Zacha slashing minor put things at 4-on-4 for about a minute.
The buzzer finally sounded on the second period, but only briefly.
Referee Garrett Rank, following the end of the period, added 0.07 seconds to the clock after time ticked down following a whistle. That miniscule amount of time, plus a faceoff deep in the Devils zone, saw the Maple Leafs pull Mrazek for a sixth attacker in that 0.07 seconds, but nothing came of it.
And it was on to the third period.
This 20 minute frame would see the wheels completely fall off for the Devils, simply put.
It began 4:15 into the third when Toronto, aggressive on the forecheck, saw Kerfoot turn the puck over to Ilya Mikheyev. Mikheyev centered the puck from behind the Devis net to Jason Spezza in the slot. Kerfoot had gone to the front of the Devils crease for a screen and Spezza’s shot beat Schmid to make it 4-3 Devils.
The Devils were just not able to gain control in order to clear their zone and they paid for it.
Marner and Matthews teamed up to tie the game at four off of an offensive zone faceoff for the Leafs with 13:28 gone by in the third.
Matthews was able to kick the puck to Marner off of a broken play off the faceoff. Marner got free and stepped up, shooting on Schmid and scoring to make it 4-4.
The Devils had led all night and now the game was tied and very dangerously about to turn in Toronto’s favor.
Sure enough, the dagger came at the 16:56 mark of the third while the Leafs were shorthanded.
Ondrej Kase was called for a trip on Hughes at 15:37 putting New Jersey on the power play.
While on the man advantage, the Devils tried to get the puck back to Damon Severson at the Maple Leafs blue line. Severson bobbled the pass and Kerfoot grabbed it, racing off up the left side with Mikheyev on a 2-on-1. Mikheyev snuck towards the back post and Kerfoot ped him a nice pass that Mikheyev laid in behind Schmid to give the Leafs their first lead of the night.
This was the league leading eighth shorthanded goal the Devils have given up so far this season.
The Devils still had a little over 30 seconds on the power play, but it was killed off by the Maple Leafs.
The Leafs would ice the comeback beginning at 18:13 when Graves was called for cross checking William Nylander to put Toronto on the man advantage to end the game.
The Devils had to pull Schmid with just about 30 seconds to go in regulation while shorthanded just to event things up and get the game tied.
Instead, Matthews shot from his own zone and scored into the empty net (with the lone assist to Rielly) to complete his fifth career NHL hat trick – and second hat trick against the Devils to give us our final of 6-4 Toronto.
As mentioned, the Leafs outshot the Devils 33-29. New Jersey won a paltry 36-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Yegor Sharangovich leading the Devils forwards with a 71-percent personal winning percentage.
With the empty net power play goal that completed Matthews’ hatty, Toronto was 1-for-3 on the man advantage while the Devils were 0-for-3. Each team ended up with six team penalty minutes. The Devils were outhit 22-15 but did have more blocked shots than the Leafs at 23 to Toronto’s 14. Team giveaways saw the Devils finish with less at 14 to the Maple Leafs’ 17.
Time on ice saw Severson log nearly a half an hour (that’s half of the game!) of ice time. He accumulated 29:12 (including 4:11 on the power play and 1:51 killing penalties). Jonas Siegenthaler spent the most time on the PK amongst the defensemen with 3:45 logged out out of his 25:30 of total TOI.
Jack Hughes led the forwards in time on ice with 20:22 of total time (which included 4:03 on the PP and 37 seconds on the PK). Jimmy Vesey led the forwards in shorthanded time with 3:15 logged out of his 13:34 of total ice time.
Boqvist led the Devils in scoring with two points (his goal and assist). Hughes led in shots with four total. Bastian led in hits with four. Graves and PK Subban led in blocks with four each. Personal giveaways were led by Severson and Subban with four each while Sharangovich, Mercer, Kuokkanen, Bratt, Severson and Graves all led in personal takeaways with one each.
Tomorrow, the Devils are right back at it as the scene shifts to Newark and the Prudential Center. This is the back end of a back-to-back and a home-and-home. Puck drop is at 7 PM and the game is being shown on MSG.
However, I will be attending this game live and, thus, will have a report up a little later on in the evening (possibly even early on Wednesday). I will be recording the game and will try to get a post up as soon as possible.