The Match-up: New Jersey Devils (17-21-7) vs the Toronto Maple Leafs (24-16-6)
The Time: 7pm
The Broadcast: MSG+
The Devils are flying high lately and not just on their plane ride to Toronto— they’re 6-2-2 in the last 10 games, including wins over the first place Washington Capitals and the 10-game-winning-streak Tampa Bay Lightning over the weekend.
What’s Been Working So Well:
Special Teams: Both sets of special teams have been clicking better for the Devils. The power play is not only more productive, but also far less painful to watch. Over the first 35 games of the season, the power play scored 4.73 goals per 60 minutes of ice time. Over the last 10 games, they’ve had 6.5GF/60. The new and improved power play has been moving their feet, making sharp and less predictable passes, and generating scoring chances both with shots from all around the ice as well as skilled puck handling down in the crease and below the goal line. What’s that all boil down to? A power play of skilled offensive-minded players that are not afraid to play like skilled offensive-minded players. They know the plan, they’re comfortable with it, each other, and themselves, and they’re getting the job done 50% more.
The Devils penalty kill is generally always good, but lately its been downright dangerous. Their 6.45GA/60 in the last 10 games is among the top half of the league and down from 7.44 in their first 35 games. Their GF/60 on the penalty kill? Second in the league with 4.3; almost as much as they had power play goals earlier in the season.
60 Minute Efforts: Strong special teams play gains momentum for teams so there’s definitely something to be said for that contribution, but the Devils have overall been playing a much more solid game throughout all three periods. Looking at the first 35 games of the season again, the Devils had the third worst 5v5 GF% in the league at 40.97%. In the last 10 games, they’re 5th best with 56.1%, and that’s including a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning who are in 1st with 70.83GF% at 5v5 in their last 11 games.
Goaltending: Earlier this season, the goaltending was just not there. The tandem of primarily Schneider and Blackwood put up a 27th-worst .902 combined save percentage at 5v5, (28th with .887% total) in the first 35. In the last 10 games, even with Blackwood spitting blood and teeth for an entire period and Domingue in net against two top teams, they’ve managed a solid .932sv% at 5v5 — 7th in the league (10th for all strengths with .911%).
So what’s the difference from all those earlier games to the last few? A top winger, the head coach, and now the general manager are all gone. Only a backup goalie has been added to the roster. That’d spell the end of the season for most teams. But this team has taken these changes and run with them—we’re seeing individual players step up, everyone performing better collectively, more effective systems, cleaner players, and generally just better hockey. All told, this is not the same team that took the ice in October and November. This is a much, much stronger contender.
On To Toronto:
So how’s Toronto been looking? The Leafs were one of the two shootout losses the Devils have had in the last 10 games, back on December 27th— we fell 5-4 on the own-goal from Damon Severson. Since then, the Leafs have gone 3-2-2. Sunday night handed the Maple Leafs two pretty devastating losses— an 8-4 defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers, and an 8-week prognosis for top defenseman Morgan Rielly with a broken foot. The Leaf’s Jake Muzzin is also out since December with a broken foot. With both of their top two pairing left defensemen out, the top pairing LD for Toronto is expected to be Travis Dermott. Dermott’s stats don’t look too bad until you consider how heavily sheltered he’s been— he’s made a higher proportion of offensive zone starts than any other defenseman on the team, and will now be expected to step into the shoes of Morgan Rielly. Behind Dermott will be Martin Marincin and Rasmus Sandin who have played a combined 20 NHL games this season. Long story short, Toronto is very, very weak on the left D side.
The rapidly-depleting defense is off-set by a struggling net presence. Frederik Andersen played just under a minute into the second period before giving up a fourth goal on the Panther’s 12th shot of the night and being pulled. Michael Hutchinson would come in for the rest of the game and give up another 4 goals on 17 shots. Andersen’s put up only a .800 save percentage across his last three starts. Hutchinson has .859 in his last four, which includes a 33 save shutout against the Islanders on January 4th.
On the positive side if you’re Toronto, their offense is still deadly as a ever. Auston Matthews is riding at #2 in the league with 31 goals and 11th with 54 points. Rounding out the over 30 points category on the leafs are Mitch Marner with 13g-31a for 44 points, William Nylander with 19g-20a for 39 points, and John Tavares with 17g-20a for 37 points. The next highest is Kasperi Kapanen with 28 points and the now-injured Morgan Rielly at 27.
Hyman - Matthews - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Kerfoot
Johnson - Engvall - Kapanen
Gauthier - Brooks - Spezza
Dermott - Holl
Sandin - Barrie
Marincin - Ceci
Zacha - Hischier - Bratt
Coleman - Zajac - Gusev
Wood - Hughes - Simmonds
Boqvist - Rooney - Hayden
Greene - Subban
Severson - Vatanen
Butcher - Carrick
*Personally, I’m going to assume we’ll see Domingue again since he’s been excellent lately, but we do have Schneider on the table with a .952sv% in his last 4 games, all wins, with a 1.23GAA average in those 4 under his belt coming up from Binghamton. I don’t know if I want to see him back in net just yet, especially with how well Domingue has been playing and a strong offense on the other team’s bench, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start a game some time soon. He’s been doing well and they clearly brought him up for a reason.
**Honestly, of all the weird things that have happened this season that I’d have thought were absolutely nuts if someone told me back in September, I’m pretty sure “yeah the goaltending tandem halfway through January is going to be Louis Domingue as the preferred starter with Cory Schneider backing up” would take the cake as the least believable.
But, here we are. Weird, and I can’t wait for Blackwood to get back, but things are somehow alright despite all that. Devils fans, kick back, enjoy the really really weird ride of this season, and lets hope for another win tonight.
Your Take: Are we going to make this three in a row? Who do you want to see in net tonight, and moving forward? How do you like the current lines? How/where would you change them when Kyle Palmieri returns? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments below, and thanks for reading!