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Game Preview #52: New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs

The New Jersey Devils travel back to Canada to get a bit of revenge on the Toronto Maple Leafs. This game preview highlights who will play for the Devils, who to watch for the Maple Leafs, and more.

This picture does not get old.
This picture does not get old.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Before I begin, I want to say that I've been battling a virus the past few days. Thanks to Mike, Brian, and Alex filling in for Tuesday's game. They stepped up and big time. I'm going to attempt this preview; hopefully, it's not more poorly written than usual.

The Time: 7:30 PM EST

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

The Broadcast: The New Jersey Devils (26-20-5) at the Toronto Maple Leafs (18-22-9; SBN Blog: Pension Plan Puppets)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday, the Devils returned to the regular season by playing Our Hated Rivals.  It was a rough go of it at first as the Rangers kept finding pockets of spaces in New Jersey's defensive zone to fire dangerous shots at Cory Schneider.  Schneider nearly got everything. The one he didn't was a 2-on-1 created by a bad decision to pinch by Eric Gelinas. Derick Brassard led the rush, saucer passed it across to J.T. Miller, and Miller beat Schneider for a 0-1 lead.  Fortunately for New Jersey, defensive superstar Derek Stepan decided to hook David Schlemko down in New Jersey's end near the end of the first period.  After the period change, the Devils cashed in when Lee Stempniak screened Henrik Lundqvist on a shot by Gelinas. Lundqvist made the save but Stempniak swept the puck past Lundqvist to tie it up.  After a challenge by NY, the goal stood.  The two teams traded off opportunities but there would be nothing more in the second period.  Early in the third period, the Rangers caught the Devils discombobulated in New Jersey's end.  Keith Yandle fed Miller in the left circle and the forward beat Schneider to make it 1-2.  The lead would not last. A little later, Andy Greene sprung Joe Blandisi up the boards.  He torched Stepan and then beat Lundqvist clean shortside to make it 2-2.   The two teams kept it steady until Oscar Lindberg took out Jacob Josefson away from the play. The power play began with a critical mistake with David Schlemko performing a no-look backhander pass that Ryan McDonagh took all the way. Thankfully, he missed. Even more thankfully, Schlemko redeemed himself. In the dying seconds of the power play, Lee Stempniak attempted a pass across the crease to a down-low Schlemko. The pass was touched but not stopped and Schlemko ripped it past Lundqvist shortside to make it 3-2.  Schneider was solid as ever to close out the game and the Devils beat their hated rivals, 3-2.  Alex had the recap to that game.

The Last Leafs Game: While the Devils were playing New York, the Maple Leafs were visiting Boston.  The game took a Bruins start with Brad Marchand making it 0-1 in the first period.  Toronto wouldn't have a response until about a period later when Daniel Winnik tied it up.   Both goaltenders, James Reimer and Tuukka Rask were on form in the second with only one goal allowed in twenty eight shots between them. The third period featured a lot more goals, though.  Marchand scored his second of the game within the first minute of the third period.  About thirty seconds later, David Krejci made it 1-3.  Would there be a comeback? Yes, there would. At about the nine minute mark, Leo Komarov pulled Toronto within one. After the halfway mark of the third period, Nazem Kadri would provide the equalizer.  Impressively, neither Rask or Reimer would be beaten again in regulation.  In overtime, Krejci made the mistake of holding Komarov.  The Bruins held in but P.A. Parenteau would convert the power play to take the game for Toronto. JP Nikota at Pension Plan Puppets has this recap of the win.

The Last Devils-Leafs Game: These two teams met for the first time this season on December 8, 2015.  It started off very well for the visiting Devils.  The Devils got an early power play and Lee Stempniak converted the power play past Garrett Sparks to make it 1-0 early on. Alas, the Maple Leafs would dominate most of the first period in out-shooting New Jersey 16-7.  There would be an equalizer by P.A. Parenteau to make it 1-1 during the first.  It was definitely a blooper; something Cory Schneider regretted allowing. In the second period, Toronto took the lead with an early power play goal by James van Reimsdyk.  This goal was more legitimate but it put the Devils down 1-2 all the same.  The Devils would come back; Kyle Palmieri would convert a power play to tie it up at two each in the second period. A scoreless third period meant overtime. A scoreless overtime meant a shootout.  A five-round shootout ended with Kadri providing the winner and the Devils not providing an answer. The Devils lost 2-3 in the shootout. My recap of the loss is here. For the otherside, Fifty Mission Cap has this recap.

The Goal: Sharpen up those zone exits. What made life difficult for the Devils in the last Devils-Leafs game was that defensemen like Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner were able to own the Devils' blueline, keep pucks in play, and maintain offensive pressure on the Devils for large stretches at a time. What made Tuesday's win over the Rangers contentious was the number of attempted clearances picked off a by a Ranger and then immediately sent forward by way of a shot or setting up a shot at a different angle. As great as Schneider was in both games, it's a bad game plan to rely on your goaltender to play like a thief and concede open shots.  If the Devils want to make this trip to Toronto more fruitful, then they need to get better exits; ideally ones with possession.

The Return of Moore: John Moore was held out of Tuesday game, but this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice indicates that he could be in the lineup tonight. That's good.  While Moore isn't exactly what I would call a stud defender, he's solid and there's no issue with having solid defenders.  What's not so good is that he could be replacing Damon Severson. I know I'm not 100%, but this seems very strange to me.  Seth Helgeson hasn't been a tire fire but he really hasn't added much on the ice. Eric Gelinas still gambles too much on defense to a point where his offensive contributions can easily be matched by his defense failings.  Severson did play considerbly fewer minutes in the second and third periods on Tuesday.  It's possible he's nursing something. Hopefully, Moore can jump back into the lineup and contribute immediately.

Probably No Other Changes: Based on Gulitti's report from practice and this post at Fire & Ice, it appears there will be no other changes to the lineup.  Cory Schneider will probably start again.  Sergey Kalinin and Joe Blandisi will be up on the top six again.  Mike Cammalleri will not play. He's held out to next week, meaning he'll miss the Caps game and his own bobblehead day. As much as I believe the Devils are better with Cammalleri than without, this will be an improvement over the last Devils-Leafs game where they were missing Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique.  And I don't think I would change too much earlier.  As loose as they were on defense, they displayed the right amount of energy, gusto, and intensity against the Rangers as a unit.  I thought Kalinin and Blandisi acquitted themselves well to their lines. With a super-tough game on Saturday, the hope will be that they can go from strength to strength.

Lee Lee Lee Lee Lee: Lee Stempniak continues his tour of making his former teams regret not keeping him (Ottawa excepted but who cares).  He's got five goals and one assist in his last five games. He got a goal in the last Devils-Leafs game. Let's go, Lee!

The Leafs Since 12/8: The Leafs main scorers since the last Devils-Leafs games are Komarov and Kadri. James van Reimsdyk actually tied with Kadri in goals with fewer games, but he's been on injured reserve since January so the Devils won't see him tonight.  This isn't to say that Tyler Bozak and Parenteau are chopped liver, but these two stand above the other Leafs.  Wouldn't you know it that, according to Left Wing Lock, they've been used on a line together recently with Peter Holland centering them.  I would think this is the one unit the Devils would like to stop, provided they can get a decent match up with them.  With Mike Babcock behind the bench and the game in Toronto, that's no easy feat.

Speaking of Left Wing Lock, Bacock kept Gardiner and Phaneuf in their last game. That may play well into New Jersey's hands unless Frank Corrado (Phaneuf's partner) and Roman Polak (Gardiner's partner) both play well. I know Polak is a good player. Corrado, I'm not convinced yet.

James Mirtle confirmed on Twitter yesterday that James Reimer will start this game. This will be the first time the Devils have seen Reimer in net.  With a very good 93.3% even strength save percentage since 12/8 and a solid 87.6% penalty kill save percentage, he's clearly Toronto's best goalie.  Is it enough for Toronto to go "all in" with Reimer as the #1? I don't know. For tonight, he'll present a challenge for the Devils' shooters.

What's Their Beef: Believe it or not, but according to War on Ice, Toronto finally has something they haven't had in recent seasons: a decent possession rate and strong goaltending.  Their CF% is just a bit below break-even (50%), and they have a team even strength save percentage of 93.1%.  That's not half bad. So why are they mired in the bottom of the East?

For starters, they're shooting at 6.5% at evens.  Devils fans in recent seasons know what that's like and it helps nobody.  For another, special teams is one sided. While their penalty kill success rate is a decent 80.7% (median is 80,9%), their power play success rate is second from the worst in the NHL at 15.7% per NHL.com. For a third point, despite the near-even CF%, their shots for over shots total percentage is much worse at even strength. The Leafs have a shots for per sixty rate of 29.3 and their shots against per sixty rate is 31.4 - the second highest rate in the NHL. In other words, while attempts are close to even, the Leafs still bleed shots against.  The gains point to the improvements Babcock and new management is making on the team but there's plenty of work to be done for Toronto to become a contender again.

One Last Thought: Toronto will have a new logo.  It's, in a word, Edmonton-esque.

Your Take: Thank you for getting through this preview; hopefully, you found it somewhat coherent.  What do you think will happen tonight? Can the Devils' offense keep going without #13?  Can the Devils keep Kadri-Holland-Komarov at bay?  Will they crack Reimer?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.