The New Jersey Devils (27-33-12) meet the Toronto Maple Leafs (33-23-15) for the third and final time this season. The Devils won in a shootout back in November; the Leafs outshot the Devils 31-30 and took a quick 3-0 lead with goals from Auston Matthews (2, duh) and Nazem Kadri but the Devils tied the game with goals from Travis Zajac, Beau Bennett, and Michael Cammalleri. Matt Martin restored the Leafs lead halfway through the second but Yohann Auvitu tied things back up in the third. Jacob Josefson scored the lone goal in the shootout. Both teams went 1/3 on the man advantage; Cory Schneider made 27 saves on 31 shots against (.871 save percentage) while Jhonas Enroth made 26 saves on 30 shots faced (.867 save %).
The two teams met again in January, a game that I just happened to be at, and the Leafs won this one in regulation. Again, they jumped out to a quick lead, 4-0 this time, on goals from Kadri, Matthews, Connor Brown, and Tyler Bozak. The Devils didn’t get on the board until late in the third period when P.A. Parenteau and Jon Merrill, his first, scored. Schneider again made the start but was pulled after allowing 3 goals on 5 shots against; Keith Kinkaid then made 8 saves on 9 shots faced (.889 save %). Freddie Andersen stopped 30 of 32 shots faced (.938 save %).
Schneider did start against the Rangers on Tuesday, a 3-2 overtime win for the Devils, but tonight’s game will go to Keith Kinkaid, who has played well as of late. Curtis McElhinney will be in net for the Leafs tonight, who are looking for another very important two points in terms of their playoff hopes. They had a huge win against the Blue Jackets 5-2 last night at Nationwide Arena so the Devils were in Toronto before they were. They currently sit in third place in the Atlantic, a sole point ahead of the Bruins who now hold the last wildcard spot in the East.
The Devils decided to travel yesterday instead of practice and had a morning skate this morning. Again, Michael Cammalleri, Jacob Josefson, and Devante Smith-Pelly will still be out of he lineup. Even if they’re ready to play, I would opt to hold them out so the younger kids can get more NHL experience. Blake Pietila may be reinserted into the lineup in place of Nick Lappin, who has been dealing with an injury. Defenseman Roman Polak was suspended two games earlier today for boarding Columbus’ Oliver Bjorkstrand and will not be in the lineup tonight.
Pavel Zacha is on a five-game point streak with five assists, including one on Tuesday on John Quenneville’s first NHL goal. Palmieri has five goals and a pair of assists in his last five games, Kadri scored his 30th goal of the season last night, a career high. Palmieri is two goals and three assists away from 100 in his career; he has 25 goals on the season. Rookie William Nylander is currently boasting an impressive nine-game point streak with three goals and seven assists; this ties a Leafs rookie record, which he might realistically break tonight. Five different Leafs players have over 50 points and Bozak is only one point behind.
Toronto does have the second best power play in the league at 23.8%; in comparison, the Devils sit 18th at 18.6% (which could be worse). Quenneville’s goal on Tuesday was also a power play goal. The Leafs also have a pretty decent penalty kill, killing about 83.4% of them (9th) while the Devils again sit at 18th at 80.5%. The Devils will have to win this one a 5 on 5, which, given how good the Leafs are at 5 on 5, won’t be an easy task. This might be one of the toughest tests the Devils will face through the end of the year, as was Tuesday’s game.
I also can’t resist talking about Tuesday’s game again because the Devils won in overtime against the Rangers and actually won a damn game but Joseph Blandisi (!) scored the game-winner off of a pass from Johnny Q. The Devils have to keep that momentum going against a team who is going to make their lives hell on the ice.
And above all, New Jersey cannot, cannot, allow the Leafs to jump out to an early lead so no 3-0, 4-0 score going into the first intermission because Toronto has gotten much better at protecting leads than before and the Devils may not be able to dig themselves out of a hole that big. Getting that first goal is of utmost importance, both to take an early lead and also to deflate the ACC crowd just a bit. Toronto’s records after scoring the first goal and allowing the first goal are vastly different. New Jersey will also have to play another quick, fast-paced game like they did against the Rangers; the Leafs are young and fast, but the Devils are getting there too.
Hopefully tonight’s game won’t be an emotional letdown and they can keep the momentum going; puck drops at 7:30PM.