Leafs Back In Action Against Devils Tonight
DEVILS (10-6-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (13-9-0)
TV: MSG PLUS, SNET-O
Last 10: New Jersey 3-5-2; Toronto 6-4-0
Season series: This is the first meeting of the season between the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs. The two teams split four meetings in 2011-12.
Big story: New Jersey was one of the League's best teams at the start of the season, but has been slumping in a big way recently. They'll look to stem the tide in the finale of their current road trip in Toronto against a Leafs team that has exceeded expectations and looks poised to make a serious run at its first playoff berth in nine years.
Devils: The good news for the Devils is that they're still in second place in the Atlantic Division, just three points behind the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins. The bad news is that might just be the only good news. New Jersey lost its last game 4-3 in a shootout at the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, extending the Devils' winless streak to four in a row. As a result, New Jersey has dropped in the standings to seventh place in the Eastern Conference, barely sticking in the top eight.
Given how tightly packed the standings are, though, the Devils' playoff fate likely is not the most immediate concern. That almost certainly is the status of goalie Martin Brodeur, who hasn't played since leaving pre-game warm-ups on Feb. 23. In Brodeur's stead, Johan Hedberg has gone 0-3-1 with 14 goals-against. Relief doesn't appear to be coming soon, either. Brodeur already has been ruled out of both Monday's game at Toronto and Tuesday's game with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Maple Leafs: With nearly four years passed since he was taken with the No. 7 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, it's easy to forget Nazem Kadri is still just 22 years old. After all, Kadri has played with the Leafs for significant stretches in the last two seasons, but after netting his first career hat trick last Thursday against the New York Islanders, he appears to finally have arrived. Kadri, who also is Toronto's leading scorer, wasn't the player who sealed the Leafs' last win, however. That was Dion Phaneuf, whose overtime winner lifted the team to a 5-4 victory.
The win was Toronto's third in its last five games. The Maple Leafs now are sixth in the Eastern Conference with a hefty cushion on the teams chasing the East's final playoff spot. As they take on reeling New Jersey, they could be poised to tack another win onto their record. While the Devils will be in their third city in five nights, the Leafs should be fresh, having had four days off.
Who's hot: Andrei Loktionov has been a steady producer for New Jersey since arriving in a trade from Los Angeles two weeks ago. In his last five games, Loktionov has three goals and two assists. ... In addition to his hat trick against the Islanders, Kadri also has four assists in his last four games.
Injury report: In addition to Brodeur, New Jersey also is without Dainius Zubrus, who has been out nearly a month following surgery on his left wrist. … Toronto is missing Joffrey Lupul, who has been on IR with a broken forearm since Jan. 24.