With Sunday's big deals by Toronto, I half-expected an energetic Toronto Maple Leafs team. What I didn't expect were for them to basically outplay the New Jersey Devils for the better part of the game. I'm not making this up. The Toronto Maple Leafs the worst (well, now second-worst) team in the East outplayed the New Jersey Devils, the second place team in the conference.
It was like night-and-day between tonight's game and Friday's 5-4 OT win by New Jersey. Whereas the defense was spotty on Friday, they basically clogged shooting lanes and disrupted passes all night long. Whereas the offense benefited from the Devils playing like garbage in the third period, the Leafs were storming through the neutral zone and created plenty of offensive rushes to catch the Devils surprised. Whereas Gustavsson and Toskala got burned, Jean-Sebastien Giguere didn't have to make too many difficult saves.
The performance by the Devils was a lot like the last one against Ottawa, which was also a 3-0 loss. The Devils skated through mud, the offense was tepid, the defense wasn't tight, and the entire team was out of sync. Instead of deflections dooming the Devils, it was two rebounds (Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel trailing after a two-on-one) and a blazing low slapshot by Francois Beauchemin that beat Yann Danis through the five-hole on the power play. Oh, and the Devils took their share of minors which undercut their attempts at offense, and the PK was sharp save for Beauchemin's shot. The only part of the Devils game that I thought they did well as on the forecheck, the offense took back a good share of pucks in Toronto's zone. But even that led to very little in the way of good shots on net.
That I can compare this poor, uninspiring performance by the Devils tonight to a shutout loss from last week says it all about how things are going for the Devils recently.
Toronto fans should be ecstatic for how well their team played tonight, share in the euphoria over at Pension Plan Puppets. If you want stats, check out NHL.com's recap where you can learn wonderful stats on how the Leafs blocked more shots than NJ (17-15), clearly out hit by the Leafs (44-22), out drawn on faceoffs (26-15), and even did well on their own penalty kill which has been abysmal this season.
I'm honestly at a loss at what more I can say. The loss wasn't all on one player or Danis, but by the whole team. OK, the decision to play both Andrew Peters and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond in place of Vladimir Zharkov and Rod Pelley wasn't so smart in retrospect. Then again, it's not like Peters and Leblond did all that much worse than, say, Niclas Bergfors or Dean McAmmond or even Zach Parise (2 shots, really, Zach, only 2 and right at Giguere's chest)? I don't think a trade to shake things up because as bad as the recent results have been, I feel like that would be rash. Harder practices by the coaches? More vocal leadership from Jamie Langenbrunner? Ditching the "old" lucky underwear and wearing some new undergarments?
Whatever it is, the Devils have to figure it out quickly. Their next opponent is this exact same team. The arrival of Dion Phaneuf and J-S Giguere definitely gave the rest of the remaining Leafs a boost and the whole squad put in a great effort. If they aren't, they should be looking to Friday's game with excitement. I mean, can you blame them? They played very well! They'll have every reason to feel good going into the Rock, it's not like the Devils will be vastly different by then.
I think I can speak safely to say that the Devils are much better than this, but they clearly didn't play like it tonight and Friday will get real ugly if the players don't do as well as they say they should do. Needless to say, Friday concerns me greatly.
Thanks for commenting in the GameThread and your continued readership. I wish there was something really positive or something hopeful from the Devils in tonight's game, but there really wasn't. Feel free to leave your thoughts, complaints, and other feelings in the comments. I want to say please maintain perspective, but I wouldn't blame you if you're so unhappy that the Devils would slip back into slump in such an awful manner. The late loss to Los Angeles angered me, but this loss just left me completely disappointed.
If you'd like to see the highlights of this game, you either missed the game to see how it all went awry or you support Toronto or the Devils losing and want to be reminded of how it went on. Either way, here's the highlights from NHL.com: