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New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs: Game 22 Preview

The New Jersey Devils will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for their third straight road game and the first time this season. This preview looks at the Leafs' great percentages and their notable players while touching on what the Devils may look like tonight.

It's been over a year since the Devils went up to Toronto.  Just like this picture.
It's been over a year since the Devils went up to Toronto. Just like this picture.
John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

New Jersey will head up to Toronto for the first time this season to begin their first back-to-back set this month.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-6-5) at the Toronto Maple Leafs (13-9-0; SBN Blog: Pension Plan Puppets)

The TiqIQ Ticket Link: Are you in Toronto and need any kind of tickets to tonight's game? Don't go looking for scalpers. Check out our partners at TiqIQ to find some from the secondary market. Here's a link: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went up to Buffalo for a Saturday afternoon game and engaged in a rather feisty, faceoff-filled affair. The Devils racked up shots and possession, though the Sabres had a few more rushes up ice and possibly more chances. After a scoreless first period, a lazy backcheck by Marek Zidlicky during a power play allowed Cody Hodgson to win the puck. He saw Jason Pominville open and the resulting one-timer made it 1-0. The Devils would tie it up when Mark Fayne's shot went off Ryan Carter's stick and then the front of Steve Bernier's pants to get past Ryan Miller. A weird bounce, but it counted all the same. The third period opened well when Adam Henrique won a puck while killing a penalty and got a breakaway thanks to Pominville giving up on the play. Henrique scored to make it 2-1. The Sabres would tie that up not long after when Pominville received a cross-ice pass from Hodgson and his shot beat a sliding Johan Hedberg. Buffalo took the lead before the halfway mark when Jochen Hecht fired a loose puck off Bernier's stick and Moose's backside. But that lead wouldn't last as a backhanded pass by Ilya Kovalchuk to Stefan Matteau led to a blind backhand pass cross the slot to an open Andrei Loktionov. The youngster scored to extend his point streak to five games. The Devils pushed for a fourth goal but it didn't come. In overtime, the Devils had an early power play to defend since Zidlicky felt it was a good idea to lie on top of Nathan Gerbe; but the PK unit was successful today and killed it off. A shootout was necessary and like the last two, the Devils didn't score and the opposition did. The Devils played pretty well but they lost 4-3 to extend their winless streak to four. Jerry had this more detailed recap of the whole game, I suggest you check it out.

The Last Maple Leafs Game: Way back on last Thursday, the Maple Leafs took to the ice in Long Island to play the Islanders. If you wanted scoring, then this was the game for you. I'm sure goaltender James Reimer didn't as he came back to the net for this one. The scoring opened quickly with a score by Josh Bailey thanks to Mark Faser and Cody Franson displaying some excellent not-defense. Toronto tied it up later in the first due to Nazem Kadri's shot, the first of many points by Kadri that night. In the second period, Lubomir Visnovsky scored his first goal this season. Toronto's response was much larger than one goal. Kadri scored his second minutes later, James van Reimsdyk put in his 12th of the season, and Kadri completed his hat-trick by torching Visnovsky and put the Leafs up 4-2 after two periods. Alas, the Toronto defense wasn't good that evening and the Isles would tie it up 4-4 in the third with goals by Andrew MacDonald and Kyle Okposo. While the Isles forced overtime, Dion Phaneuf forced an early end and a second point for Toronto when he jumped up from the point, got the puck heading into the left circle, and wristed one past Evgeni Nabokov. PPP has a recap with a giant .GIF of Kadri's third goal, which is pretty, over at Pension Plan Puppets.

The Goal: Cover the slot more regularly. The Devils got caught with Sabres wide open in the slot or through the slot on Saturday. Some were the result of a backchecker who went too far, most obvious by Bobby Butler on Pominville's first goal. Others were the result of too many guys going after the puck instead of holding position, which I believe led to Hecht's goal. Either way, the Devils need to be tighter there unless they want to turn this game into a . The Leafs have very talented forwards like their leading scorer, Kadri with 21 points, leading goal-scorer, van Reimsdyk with twelve goals, and top shooter, Phil Kessel with 81 shots. They're each supported by Tyler Bozak (usually with van Reimsdyk and Kessel) and Clark MacArthur (usually with Kadri and Leo Komarov). Those three can and will storm the middle of the ice when available and make the goalie pay. The Devils have done a very good job in the bigger picture of limiting shots against. They still need to be aware of the dangerous ones because opposing teams have been able to get those over time either through odd-man rushes or just finding a hole in coverage on shifts. Should the Devils want to snap their streak, then they'll want keep Kadri, van Reimsdyk, Kessel, and company at bay. I believe that will require being present and playing smart in the slot and around the net.

Now, the Devils only had an optional practice on Sunday so it's not known what the lines and pairings will be tonight. Tom Gulitti did report the following at Fire & Ice: Johan Hedberg will start with Martin Brodeur possibly playing on Tuesday and Bobby Butler was placed on waivers. I have no problem with Moose; I'd rather go with the veteran than risk Keith Kinkaid getting his first taste of the NHL against a team that's been super at shooting and stopping pucks. As for Butler, I can't say I'm surprised. Butler really hasn't done much in recent games and his benching on Saturday's game probably was the final straw for now. I thought he could hack it in this league but he's convinced the coaches otherwise with his play. Who will take his spot? In Gulitti's report, he did note instead of a call-up, Krys Barch or even Peter Harrold could take the hole left by Butler. One's terrible and the other has played exactly one game to fill in at wing. Butler was getting limited minutes so it could go either way in DeBoer's mind. Since the Leafs regularly dress a similarly useless goon in Colton Orr, I unhappily expect Barch in so the two can have their pointless and totally-not-staged-no-not-at-all fight early on to get it out of the way.

In any case, I would expect most of what roster from Saturday to be the same. Loktionov's been hot and Kovalchuk has done well with him, so I expect those two to remain. Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, and David Clarkson continue to do good work. Andy Greene and Adam Larsson will get the tough zone starts together again. I want Marek Zidlicky and Mark Fayne swapped if only because Zidlicky is a third-pairing defender and should be used as such. Alas, I'm not holding my breath on that.

Let's go over the Leafs. Their fans are holding their breath that their current run of good luck holds up. According to the 5-on-5 situational stats at Behind the Net, the Leafs have the third highest shooting percentage at 10% and the fifth highest save percentage at 93%. For the first time in seemingly forever, the Leafs are getting fantastic goaltending while generating a good number of goals. However, it's not going to last unless you think 10% is sustainable for a team to shoot at (hint: it's not) and/or you truly believe Ben Scrivens and James Reimer are each Pekka Rinne in disguise. From those same stats, the Leafs regularly get out-shot at evens with the league's sixth lowest SF/60 rate of 27.1 and the league's third highest SA/60 rate of 32.0. Their close-score Fenwick percentage is only 45.81%, the sixth lowest in the league. Like most teams, the Devils should be able to win the possession battle against the Leafs. When the luck in their shooting or goaltending fades, it's not going to be pretty. The hope is that with a shortened season, they can earn enough points while their percentages are good and then scrape enough after it ends to get in. With a little more than half the season left, it's not an unthinkable possibility.

That said, the percentages fading is a long-term concern. What they are now is a short-term concern and since all games are in the short-term, the Devils should be concerned. Kadri has been fantastic this season with eight goals and thirteen assists. He's usually with the physical MacArthur and the young Komarov. The top unit of Bozak, van Reimsdyk, and Kessel could give the Devils a lot of fits. And that's including Kessel's incredibly unfortunate shooting rate. He has only four goals on 81 shots (and twelve assists); that rate certainly has to improve eventually. From the blueline,Franson has been quite productive with one goal and twelve assists, with nine coming from even strength. Phaneuf leads the defense in minutes (26:09 ATOI), shots (45, fourth on the team, too), goals (5 to go with 7 assists), and big body presence (just ask Pierre McGuire). The Leafs have quite a few weapons and that's with Kessel's bad luck and injuries to Joffery Lupul and Matt Frattin.

With respect to their goaltending, Scrivens and Reimer have been wonderful at even strength. The two have split time this season and it appears to me that head coach Randy Carlyle can easily go with either one. Scrivens has a 93.2% save percentage at evens while Reimer is at 93.1% even after four allowed in Long Island. The duo has been more vulnerable on the penalty kill. Scrivens is currently at a save percentage of 85.7% in PK situations while Reimer has been better at 86.8%. Short of a poor night at evens, I would suggest the Devils can make something happen on the power play.

But that would require me to suggest that the Devils can make something happen on the power play. As of late, the Devils have not been able to do so, even though they tried to get the puck to the slot a few times in Buffalo. Besides, the Leafs are above league median in 4-on-5 SA/60 per Behind the Net at 45.7 so it's not like they're weak on that special team. On the flipside, it's good to see the Devils go two straight games without a power play goal allowed. They could make it three. Toronto is about average in terms of success rate (16.5%, 16th in the league before Sunday's games) and in SF/60 per Behind the Net (48.7). They have the talent to threaten, but they're not stomping teams out with it so I think the Devils PK should be fine provided they don't leave, say, Kadri, van Reimsdyk, or Kessel wide open. Given that the Leafs have been taking more than they've been giving out at even strength this season, it would behoove the Devils to try and make it happen at there - even though Scrivens and Reimer have been excellent in those situations.

I've noted the team's close-score Fenwick percentage being rather low. Individually, it's ugly in terms of on-ice Corsi rate according to Behind the Net. Only five players are above zero in on-ice Corsi, one of them is the injured Frattin, and two of them are their third pairing of Franson and Fraser, who's just above zero. Carlyle has been getting good situations for Kadri and MacArthur so they have done well. Peter DeBoer should do what he can to get good players out against him to limit that benefit. Anyway, a few other Leafss aren't from even and might get there after zone adjustments. But a large part of their roster is stuck in the deep end. Again, Devils should be able to win the possession battle tonight.

Based on their very low offensive zone start percentages, Carlyle has been using Mikael Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and Jay McClement as a checking line of sorts. They've been getting pounded. Grabovski comes out the better of the three as he should given he's got some offensive game; but he's usually defending. On that same basis, I suspect it's usually with Phaneuf and Korbinian Holzer. Carlyle will most likely try to get that five-man unit against either Loktionov's or Zajac's line. Based on the Corsi rates, whoever gets that match-up will generate attempts. The question is whether they'll be good ones. It's yet one more aspect to tonight's game to keep an eye on for tonight.

As a final point, fatigue should not be an issue for the opponents. The Maple Leafs haven't played since Thursday. I'm sure the players will be well prepared on what the Devils can and cannot do. Don't expect the Devils to grind this game out and wear them down for later in the game.

What do you think of the Maple Leafs this season? Will they be able to strive for the playoffs or are they in for a long slog of two months to end up on the outside looking in? Can the Devils crack either Reimer or Scrivens? Can they keep Kadri, van Reimsdyk, and Kessel at bay? Who on the Devils can lead the charge, if there will be any? Do you think the Devils can snap their winless streak tonight? If so, why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.