The only difference? This time the Maple Leafs not only scored the touchdown but converted the extra point as well.
Hours before puck drop in New Jersey Tuesday, Mike Babcock called the Devils the “perfect team to be playing here today” as his bunch found itself dealing with a minor bout of adversity.
Toronto’s special teams had taken a dive, its work ethic had been spotty, and the assimilation of William Nylander had been less than seamless as the Leafs entered play having dropped four of their past five.
Nothing like drawing an opponent with 10 fewer wins, one you shellacked 6-1 the last time you met, to get back on track.
“We should be biting to get back out there,” John Tavares figured after going 0-fer on the Mothers trip to Florida.
The Maple Leafs put this one to bed early, opening a 3-0 lead in the first 13:38 and cruising to a decisive 7-2 victory.
So what if Toronto’s struggling power play is now 1-for-25? The Leafs dominated at even strength, widening the gulf between one of the conference’s best teams and one of its worst with a dismantling that was mechanical in its efficiency.
“It’s great that we’re fun to watch. I hear that all the time,” Babcock said. “When I hear that we’re machine-like to watch, I’ll be a happy guy.”
Even the coach should crack a smile after this one.
Matthews ‘thankful’ the puck was loose
No stranger to having a goal called back due to goaltender interference, Auston Matthews shoved defenceman Damon Severson in the crease and pounced on the loose puck to jam home his 17th of the season in the first period.
Like the rest of us, Matthews admitted he wasn’t quite certain if the goal would hold up once New Jersey challenged, saying he was “thankful” to see the original ruling stand.
In a statement, the league confirmed that Matthews’ contact with Severson “did not by itself impact [Keith] Kinkaid’s ability to make the save.”
Rule 69.7 states, in part, the goal should be allowed because “in a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”
Tavares scores on the rare all-centre 3-on-1
A day after Kyle Dubas raved that free agent prize John Tavares has exceeded even his new GM’s own high expectations, the superstar registered his eighth multi-point game as a Leaf and his 21st goal, finishing off the ultra-rare 3-on-1 passing play involving three centremen (Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri drew assists).
Credit Morgan Rielly for triggering the transition goal by breaking up a Devils rush the other way.
“We can’t give them easy offence,” Taylor Hall warned earlier in the day.
Tavares has never enjoyed a 40-goal NHL season. Thriving in his initial return to the New York City area, he’s now on pace for 51.
“I can’t control everyone’s opinion and what everyone sees,” Tavares told reporters, “but I know how much I gave in my nine years on Long Island, how hard I played, how much I enjoyed playing there, how much I cared.”
Marleau ties the Rocket
As Patrick Marleau, now skating on Kadri’s third line, eyes his 16th 20-goal campaign, the dressing-room mentor notched his 544th career goal by driving net-front and converting a Kadri pass. This one tied Marleau with Maurice Richard for 30th on the all-time goals list and made it 3-0 Leafs.
Yep, he’s going into the Hall.
“It’s incredible, actually, just to even think about it,” Babcock said. “Other things about tonight I thought were positive were [Connor Brown] getting three assists and [Tyler Ennis] getting a couple of goals. All those things for confidence are great for people.”
Let’s start a GoFundMe page for Kinkaid, shall we?
Poor Keith Kinkaid, the Devils’ starter on a backup’s salary.
Here’s an incredible statistic: Cory Schneider’s last regular-season victory occurred on Dec. 27, 2017. The goaltender Lou Lamoriello once gave away the right to draft Bo Horvat for returned to the IR this week after going 0-15-3 in his last 18 starts.
Once considered among the elite, Schneider has a .852 save percentage and 4.66 GAA through nine appearances this season. He still has four years remaining on a contract that carries a $6 million cap hit.
Much like his previous outing against what he described as a “high-octane” Toronto outfit, Kinkaid got blasted again, giving up five in two periods, including a backbreaker to Rielly with 0.8 seconds left in the second period.
As solid as the undrafted, goodnatured, emoji-loving Kinkaid has been, asking a club to make the playoffs without its $6-million goalie winning a game over a calendar year is simply too much.
Kinkaid is now backed up by Mackenzie Blackwood, a 22-year-old who made his NHL debut in third-period relief and allowed two goals to Tyler Ennis.
Hall is back, but is he enough? No. No, he’s not
Taylor Hall returned to action Tuesday after sitting out two games with a “nagging” lower-body injury, but the reigning league MVP can’t do it all himself.
“I hate missing games,” Hall told reporters after the morning skate. “Against a team like the Leafs, you’re always excited to play them.”
Hall set up a Nico Hischier strike in garbage time, but beyond New Jersey’s excellent top line (already 82 points combined), there’s simply not enough talent up front to make a difference.
“His game has really taken another step,” Tavares said of Hall. “He’s their leader, a guy they look to for production, but also a guy who sets the tone. He’s fiery and competitive.”
Only the spiraling Flyers rank lower in the Eastern Conference standings than New Jersey. Hall stated that the time for moral victories is over, but even one of those eluded the Devils on this night.
“They were a lot better than us in the first and second and third,” Devils coach John Hynes said post-game.