Preview: Devils Host Maple Leafs in Post-Christmas Showdown

Tonight the New Jersey Devils return to the ice at the Prudential Center to face the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this season. It’s sure to be exciting, as both teams won their pre-Christmas bouts with loads of offense and flare. The Maple Leafs are coming back from their holiday break after beating the Carolina Hurricanes 8-6, bringing them to 7-1 in their last eight games. Toronto’s win streak is now five, advancing them to 11-4 under new head coach Sheldon Keefe, and hopefully inspiring the Devils to come to life. Although, Monday was a fun night for the Devils too, as seven different players recorded points in a 7-1 walloping of the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Who to Watch

It will undoubtedly be difficult for the Devils to beat the scorching hot Maple Leafs, including the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares, without the help of Taylor Hall. Especially since they can rely on these players to score almost at-will when the going gets tough. In Monday’s match against the Hurricanes, Toronto looked dead in the water after giving up a 3-0 lead to go down 5-3  in the second period. But the inspired new Maple Leafs clawed back and scored five more in the third period to overcome the Canes, including this no-look beauty from Matthews to Marner. 

That goal alone would have been enough, but Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner combined for seven points total in Monday night’s victory. Marner now has 11 points in his last 5 games, so while New Jersey’s defense is daunting, I wouldn’t sit him out of your fantasy lineup just yet. 

Line Combinations

Devils

  • Bratt-Hischier-Palmieri
  • Coleman-Zajac-Gusev
  • Wood-Hughes-Simmonds
  • Boqvist-Zacha-Hayden
  • Greene-Subban
  • Butcher-Vatanen
  • Mueller-Severson
  • Goalies: Blackwood, Senn

Maple Leafs

  • Hyman-Matthews-Marner
  • Mikheyev-Tavares-Nylander
  • Engvall-Kerfoot-Kapanen
  • Timashov-Gauthier-Spezza
  • Rielly-Barrie
  • Muzzin-Holl
  • Dermott-Ceci
  • Goalies: Hutchinson, Andersen

Keys to the Game 

With Taylor Hall being in Arizona, the designated Devils’ key player has become Nico Hischier. Hischier will have to lead the Devils by example, setting the tempo for their forecheck and shooting the puck at any opportunity. Between him, Nikita Gusev, and Jesper Bratt, the Devils have too-many pass-first players, so it’s on Nico to take control. If the Devils turn the puck over on odd-man rushes or fail to get pucks on net, it could lead to breaks going back their way. Just watch the first goal when these two teams met last year around Christmas time.

Forgive me, but I don’t like how any Devils’ defensemen fare in a two-on-one against Matthews and Marner, let alone a three-on-one involving Tavares. Especially as the Devils are in transition at the goaltender, limiting the Maple Leafs odd-man breaks will be imperative. 

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