The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to 1-5-4 on the road after squandering a three-goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

A low-event contest was the expectation going into the game, with a tired Leafs team playing on the road against a Devils team that doesn’t produce much offensively or give up much defensively. The game started off exactly as anticipated with four shots on goal between the two teams over the opening nine and a half minutes of the first period.

What transpired from there was an eight-goal explosion featuring some wild play in both directions. The Maple Leafs were the catalyst for most of those eight goals, playing a foot-loose and fancy-free brand of hockey at both ends of the ice.

Toronto didn’t produce a shot attempt over an eight-and-a-half minute span after their first attempt at the 55-second mark — not due to a lack of possession; more of a general lack of anything happening — before generating 14 in the last 10 minutes of the opening period. Auston Matthews laid his 13-game scoring slump to rest and unsurprisingly scored a second just minutes later, with a primary assist on a Nazem Kadri powerplay goal sandwiched in between. A three-point period from Matthews put the Leafs in the driver’s seat up 3-0 after 20 minutes.

A disastrous start to the second period saw the Leafs proceed to give it all back inside six minutes. The Leafs shot themselves in the foot twice: They were in control on the breakout but turned the puck over on the half wall, leading to the 1-0 goal by Travis Zajac, before having a penalty all but killed off only for Zach Hyman to fail to get the puck in deep at the offensive blueline, leading to the second goal by Beau Bennett. The Devils inevitably tied it up (courtesy of Mike Cammalleri) after the Leafs cheated on a couple of breakouts and generated just one shot attempt in the opening 4:38 of the period.

Any time you start 3-0, put those goals in the bank to collect interest & go get three more instead of playing like we did

– Mike Babcock

Matt Martin put the Leafs back in front with his first goal as a Leaf after collecting on his own rebound on a rush down the right wing halfway through the second period. Six minutes into the third, the Leafs gave up that lead as well, although we might’ve seen the goal waived off if Mike Babcock still had his timeout (which he used, sensibly, after his team conceded three goals in the span of 5:30) available for a challenge. Curiously, the officials didn’t take a look at the play themselves despite the appearance of goaltender interference on the play (Nick Lappin hooked Jhonas Enroth’s stick out of his hand with his skate).

After OT solved nothing despite some good opportunities for the Leafs, Jacob Josefson scored the lone shootout goal to secure the extra point for the Devils. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nikita Soshnikov were all turned aside by Cory Schneider.

Player Notes

Connor Brown – His motor on the cycle helped create the early goals for his line; this game was his best alongside Matthews so far. Along with Hyman, he was the hardest-working Leaf throughout the game. He had a great chance to get the first Devils goal back right away early in the second period after he transitioned the puck quickly through the neutral zone with a Devils defenceman caught up ice. Cory Schneider played the shot aggressively; Brown could’ve maybe pump-faked and cut around the goalie with the time afforded to him, but it was a nice rush nonetheless and a good example of how far Brown’s skating has come — it was once considered the biggest obstacle between him and an NHL career, when paired with his slight frame in junior. He was effective pressuring the puck up ice on the penalty kill and a disruptive presence in that role throughout the game. Four shots on goal is an NHL-career high.

Nazem Kadri – Low-event game from the Kadri line at even strength; they weren’t on for many shot attempts for or against, but they were out-possessed at 5v5 overall on the evening and conceded the all-important 4-4 goal. His line was better early than it was late. They put together a couple of effective shifts on the cycle early in the game, but there was a bad pair of consecutive shifts from the line in the first half of the third period — they were second to pucks repeatedly — the second of which led to the tying goal against. Kadri buried his eighth of the season on the powerplay and now quietly sits tied for the team lead in goals. He is off to his hottest start offensively since his breakout 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign when he was playing in a sheltered role behind Bozak and Grabovski.

Auston Matthews – So ends the slump that no one (reasonable) was actually worried about. You knew the breakthrough goal wouldn’t be pretty. He jostled for positioning at the top of the blue paint and put one in off the goalie on his backhand for his first goal in 13 games, before setting up the Kadri goal on the powerplay and burying a second — again generated off of a good cycle by his line — all within the first period. He also rang the iron on the powerplay in the second period. Just like that, he’s back into second in rookie scoring (tied with Marner) with 16 points and on pace for 33 goals and 33 assists. Matthews has been dominant away from home where the matchups are more difficult and offense is harder to come by. Incredibly impressive.

James van Riemsdyk – He has a habit of making overly complicated breakout passes/redirects between his legs while facing away from the play on the boards, with one such play partially causing the first Devils goal. There are more effective and safe ways to achieve the same thing: As a left shot, he can face the play and dig his heel into the kickplate on the halfwall. The rimmed puck will direct accurately onto the blade and the pass can be made from there (see: Dastyuk, Pavel for details). Offensively, he had his fair share of opportunities in front of goal on the powerplay but he couldn’t solve Schneider. He nearly was the hero in front of his friends and family in attendance at the Prudential Center when he struck the post with under a minute left to play after taking a pass from Gardiner skate to stick and getting a quick release off that beat Schneider.

Zach Hyman – He withstood heavy punishment down low and battled through it to create the first Matthews goal after gaining the zone. He put together some great PK shifts throughout the game with his pressure up ice, creating offensive zone time while down a man; on the penalty kill in the second half of the middle frame, he managed to create two shots on goal in the offensive end while chewing up the clock. He finished as one of only three Leafs with a 50% possession share or better at evens, collected two assists, and put four shots on goal. He did need to get puck deep on PK goal against early in the second, though.

Matt Martin – He broke the goose egg with his first goal as a Leaf, doing well to get a shot off in stride(ish) with good placement for a rebound. He threw a couple of meaningful hits that changed possession, but the fourth line again came out bottom on the team in shot attempts for/against.

Morgan Rielly – It was a battle for the Rielly and Zaitsev pairing in this game, struggling against the Zajac/Cammalleri line in particular (Rielly was out-possessed 75/25 versus that pairing) due to some difficulty breaking their cycle. Zaitsev made a bizarre decision on the first Devils goal — after making the d-to-d play to Rielly, who rang the boards, the Leafs were in good shape, yet Zaitsev decided to take off up the middle of the ice, making for a 2 on 1 down low after the turnover. The optics weren’t great for Rielly when the Devils scored off of a couple of point shots — either through a rebound or a screen/deflection — with #44 positioned in front, but it’s hard to blame him individually when the system calls for the D to leave the man and front the shot. He generated three shots on goal but finished a dash-three (Zaitsev finished a -2). 

William Nylander – Grabbed an assist on the Kadri powerplay goal, pick-pocketing Andy Greene and passing off to Matthews. He was effective on the forecheck and cycle early and generated a couple of good carries down the wing in the first period, backing the D off, slamming on the breaks, and creating space. He does need to shoot the puck more. While he has fantastic vision, he has an equally good shot (one of the best on the team). On a clear 2-on-1 in OT, he opted to pass to Hyman on his offwing instead of shooting. While it wasn’t a terrible play by any means — he stared down Schneider, who was anticipating a shot — he’s got the ability to beat the goalie clean and consideration has to go into the identity of the passing option. He’s got another level to reach at 5v5 still.

Martin Marincin – Struggled in the first with some awkward plays on his off side. He also took a costly penalty early in the second period. You can sympathise with the fact that he hasn’t played much lately and he is saddled with Hunwick. Babcock has said before that it takes 20 games for a defenceman to adjust to playing the other side of the ice, so he simply hasn’t had enough reps there yet. But he has lost the trust of the coaching staff after starting the year playing top-four minutes; his 11:17 tonight was his lowest TOI figure since last February.

Matt Hunwick – Another tough game in his own zone transitioning the puck. It didn’t help that he was sending D-to-D passes to Marincin, who was on his backhand on the right and at times has difficulty handling the puck to begin with. The pairing struggled through four of their shifts in the first period alone and Hunwick finished bottom among the Leafs defence in shot attempts for/against.

Connor Carrick – He led team in shot attempt differential with a 55% share as the duo with Jake Gardiner continues to be an effective second-pairing play driver, particularly when on the ice with the Matthews unit (the Matthews line plus the Gardiner – Carrick pairing carried 75% of the possession when on the ice together at evens). He moved the puck quickly, efficiently, and on a number of occasions — with no options available to him — skated the puck out of his own zone cleanly. Carrick was a plus-one with two shots on goal in 18:56 of action, while Gardiner led all Leafs with 25:28 of ice time as he picked up the slack from Marincin playing so little.

Jhonas Enroth   It’s hard to fault him much on three of the Devils goals. A fair share of the blame can be placed at his feet on the 3-3 goal, however — it was a weak rim around the boards when he came out to play the puck, and he couldn’t cling onto the rebound. He made his fair share of good saves, too, but this wasn’t quite the confidence-inspiring performance he was striving for as he looks to earn the trust of the coaching staff going forward. 

All Situations Shot Attempts


Shot Location Chart


Game in Six

Mike Babcock Post Game