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Game Preview #37: New Jersey Devils vs the Toronto Maple Leafs

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The Devils will look to keep the momentum going from some improved play as of late and a blowout win before the holiday break as they return tonight to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Fun Fact: As both teams fired their head coaches mid-season, tonight’s game will be lead by a combined total of 25 games NHL head coaching experience — 15 for Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe, 10 for NJ’s Alain Nasreddine.

The Match-up: The New Jersey Devils (12-19-5) vs the Toronto Maple Leafs (20-14-4)

The Time: 7 pm

The Broadcast: MSG+

What to Expect:

Toronto is like the more successful older cousin of the Devils this season— they also started out rough and did not like what they saw, so they started the wave of head coach firings by firing Head Coach Mike Babcock and replacing him with their AHL head coach Sheldon Keefe. The Leafs have seen nearly immediate and massive improvement since the change back on November 20th. They had lost 6 games in a row prior to the coaching change, and are now coming into tonight riding a 5 game winning streak. The two teams changes are not exactly identical—following the Babcock firing it was discovered he was greatly disliked by his players, whereas Hynes was simply not doing a good job— so we may not get the same dramatic results that Toronto has, but considering how quickly the Devils have looked like a changed team and their entertaining rout of the Blackhawks a few days ago, its still within the realm of possibility.

Toronto is now the #11 team in the league with 44 points. The players have turned into shooting machines lately, with the team putting up the second most shot attempts per game in the league at an average of 62 per 60 minutes at 5v5. They’re also not allowing nearly as many against, so stiffling that high octane offense while still trying to break through the defense and crack Frederik Andersen in net will be an uphill battle for the Devils tonight. Andersen is running with a .916 save percentage and a 2.64 goals against average ad is leading the league with 19 wins but has struggled recently despite the Leaf’s success — in his last three games he’s averaged a .871 sv% including suffering through an offensive blitzkrieg of a night in Carolina in which he allowed 6 goals but somehow the Leafs still won. He allowed three goals in each of the other two starts since Dec. 15th, so if the Devils see him in net tonight (which is expected but unconfirmed per Daily Faceoff,) we’ll hopefully see a slightly off the ball Freddie.

Toronto is looking a little shakier when the special teams come out. Their power play is top ten in the league at a 22.3% success rate but their penalty kill is down near the bottom at 76.1%. For reference we have a 13% power play success rate and an 80.6% penalty kill rate.

The big name coming into tonight is of course Auston Matthews. Matthews is tied for second in the league with 24 goals, 11th in the league with 43 points, 16th in PPG with 1.13, scoring at nearly twice the league average with a shooting percentage over 17%. Slightly behind Matthews is Mitch Marner wiith 35 points, then John Tavares with 29 points and William Nylander with 28 points.

The Takeaway: In general, Toronto plays a much faster paced, shot heavy game than NJ has played most of this season, and they have the talent behind them in net and at their front lines to make that style work for them. Think the Calgary Flames game, but faster. The Devils were not even remotely equipped to handle that style back in early November, but their style has been evolving lately as well. Can they continue those improvements and hang in with the Leafs tonight?

Expected Line Combos:

Bratt - Hischier - Palmieri
Coleman - Zajac - Gusev
Wood - Hughes - Simmonds
Zacha - McLeod - Hayden

Greene - Subban
Butcher - Severson
Mueller/CARRICK PLEASE - Vatanen

Blackwood

* Boqvist only had four shifts against Chicago — he did not play past the halfway point in the first period after taking an elbow to the face. IHC Nas said it was precautionary, they would “find out a little bit more in the next couple days” so from that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Boqvist-less lineup.

For Toronto:

Hyman - Matthews - Marner
Engvall - Tavares - Mikheyev
Nylander - Kerfoot - Kapanen
Timashov - Gauthier - Spezza

Rielly - Barrie
Mussin - Holl
Dermott - Ceci

Andersen

Your Take: Will the Devils come in tonight looking fresh and ready to stick with a fast paced game or will we see another shooting gallery embarrassment from this playing style? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments and thanks for reading!