Devils Gameday Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs – 01/31/22

For the second time this month, the New Jersey Devils are preparing for a home and home battle. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs who have found success in their last three games. In their last eight, New Jersey is 1-7-0, and tonight they will again be in search of a win before they return to Prudential Center.

The last time these two teams met was Jan. 14, 2020, at Scotiabank Arena. In that game, Auston Matthews scored a hat trick for the Maple Leafs and Blake Coleman scored a hat trick for the Devils. After 60 minutes, the game resulted in a 7-4 victory for the home team. Here’s a look at the storylines ahead of today’s game.

2 Storylines: Toronto Maple Leafs (27-10-3)

Toronto’s Core 4 Leading the Way

Toronto’s top players have performed extremely well this season. Matthews is entering tonight’s game with a team-leading 45 points in 37 games. In addition to his solid on-ice performance, the 24-year-old has developed into a leader for his team off of it.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

“He’s really transformed into a leader in this locker room,” said veteran Jason Spezza. “His daily habits have always been exceptional, but he’s having conversations away from the group. He’s having conversations at the right time in the dressing room. He’s also pushed us at times to be better. He’s just got a great mind for the game and we’re starting to see it now in the dressing room.”

Related: 3 Maple Leafs Storylines to Pay Attention to in Second Half

Matthews hasn’t been shouldering the burden by himself for the past four months. William Nylander and captain John Tavares are tied with 40 points, and Mitch Marner rounds out the group with 30 points in 31 games. The Maple Leafs are getting plenty of offense from their top two lines, which have helped propel them to the third spot in the Atlantic Division.

Maple Leafs Have Played Very Well at Scotiabank Arena

Tonight marks the Maple Leafs’ 21st home game of the 2021-22 season. Of their 20 games, 15 have resulted in a victory for the home crowd. Jack Campbell was in the crease for a majority of those victories, and while Toronto has not announced their starting goaltender, I wouldn’t be surprised to see No. 36 lead his team onto the ice as the 30-year-old Michigan native has evolved into one of the league’s best goaltenders.

2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (15-23-5)

Devils Are Looking to End Road Trip on High Note

New Jersey has made strides over the past two games, but not enough to show it on the scoresheet. They played a competitive game against both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes but came up one goal short in both decisions. The Devils will look to capitalize on their opportunities and successfully finish plays.

“We missed three breakaways,” said coach Ruff after his team’s loss against Carolina. “You know, it’s kind of the same sort of picture that we painted in Tampa, where we had a lot of good opportunities but you don’t finish. We had the opportunities to get back in the game and take a lead in the game in the second period and we weren’t able to capitalize on some of those key offensive opportunities.”

The Devils Will Be Without Coach Ruff

The organization announced this morning that coach Ruff will not be behind the bench for the Devils’ next two games due to the loss of his father, Leeson. Assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, who is no stranger to taking over head coaching duties, will fill in. This will be the second time Nasreddine will run the bench this season as he filled in for coach Ruff when he had COVID. During that time, his record was 2-1, including a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers on New Year’s Eve.

Alain Nasreddine New Jersey Devils
Alain Nasreddine, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The team issued the following statement,” The Devils’ organization is thinking of Lindy, his family, and all those who knew Leeson during this difficult time.”

Players to Watch

New Jersey Devils: Jonas Siegenthaler

It is safe to say fans are in agreement that Jonas Siegenthaler has been the Devils’ unsung hero throughout the first half of the season. He has been incredibly reliable on the back end and, along with Damon Severson, compete against their opponent’s top lines every night. The Devils will need the 6-foot-3 defenseman to play another sound game against a dangerous Maple Leafs team.

Toronto Maple leafs: Michael Bunting

The 26-year-old has been said to bring Brad Marchand’s nastiness and Brendan Gallagher’s grit around the net to the ice. Knowing this, the Devils will have to remain disciplined in order to keep the Maple Leaf’s number one ranked power play at bay. In addition to his gritty play, he also scored a hat trick in his last game and five points in as many appearances.

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