Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils: Leafs Bury Devils, 4-1

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Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils: Leafs Bury Devils, 4-1

The New Jersey Devils reached yet another low Sunday night.

Their star player fought, their star goalie was pulled and the offense was once again nonexistent as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Devils, 4-1, at the Prudential Center tonight.

The loss was the Devils' fifth straight and 10th in their last 11 games. Opponents are outscoring the Devils, 24-5, during the streak.

New Jersey repeated it's pattern of play from their past four losses. The team came out strong, skating hard in the first ten minutes of the period. Dainius Zubrus almost put the Devils ahead during that stretch. With John Mitchell in the box for hooking, Zubrus moved into the Maple Leafs' zone. The Devils' center fired a shot from the right circle that beat Gustavsson and clanged off the post.

The Maple Leafs would convert on a turnover to take a 1-0 lead. Brian Rolston attempted a cross-ice pass in his defensive zone that was tipped by Kris Versteeg. The puck fluttered to Colby Armstrong, who lifted a shot over the glove of Martin Brodeur for his second goal of the season.

After that score, coach Jacques Lemaire noticed a drop in the Devils play.

"I think our game was really good at the start," Lemaire said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "We had maybe seven minutes in the first - I don't know after they scored - that we really dropped and started to make plays that weren't there and hoping that the player will get the puck, things like that you shouldn't do, especially when you're not on top of your game. You should try to keep it as simple as possible."

New Jersey's poor play continued into the second period. The Devils struggled to create scoring opportunities and gain possession in the Maple Leafs zone. Then, Toronto effectively ended the game.

Mitchell's goal at 8:45 of the period extended the Maple Leafs' lead to 2-0. Versteeg drove the net, snapping a shot on Brodeur. The Devils' goalie stopped the puck but lost sight of the rebound. Mitchell crashed the crease and popped the puck over Brodeur's pad for his second goal of the season.

Nikoli Kulemin pushed the Leafs' advantage to 3-0 at 17:23 of the middle period. Clarke McArthur carried the puck into the Devils' zone and fed Kulemin in the slot. Kulemin drifted to the left circle, waiting for McArthur to screen Brodeur. The Maple Leafs' right-winger fired a shot over Brodeur's shoulder for his 12th goal of the season.

Ilya Kovalchuk signified the team's offensive futility, dropping the gloves with Dion Phaneuf. The two originally tussled in the first period, but Kovalchuk skated away. Phaneuf engaged again, this time hitting Kovalchuk's face with his stick. The two collided in the corner, with Phaneuf throwing an elbow at Kovalchuk and the Devils' left-winger slashing Phaneuf's stick.

Lemaire said it's not Kovalchuk's place to fight.

"We need him on the ice," Lemaire told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger. "We done need him to get into fights. Those things will happen."

Kovalchuk wouldn't say what started the fight.

"Nothing really," Kovalchuk said to Chere. "It happened. It's part of the game. I'm not special. We all know he plays that kind of style. There's nothing wrong with it."

The Devils, who are the lowest scoring team in the NHL, were effectively dead in the water after two periods. They only had one win after trailing by two periods, and the team hadn't score more than one goal in their four previous losses.

Jacques Lemaire, in an attempt to motivate his team, pulled Martin Brodeur after the second period. The future Hall-of-Famer allowed three goals on 14 shots. In his past two games, he's surrendered eight goals on 28 shots. It was the fifth time this season Brodeur was pulled from a game.

Brodeur took responsibility for his performance.

"When we stop making huge mistakes and I make a couple of saves, we'll be in games," Brodeur told Gulitti.

Rod Pelley broke the shutout at 12:27 of the period. With Nazem Kadri in the box for tripping, Andy Greene sent the puck to Tim Sestito. The Devils' center found Pelley alone in the left circle. Pelley ripped a shot past Jonas Gustavsson for his first goal of the season.

The powerplay goal would be meaningless as Armstrong restored his team's three goal advantage. Armstrong skated the puck into the Devils' zone and snapped a wrist shot on Hedberg. The puck trickled through the five hole and into the net for Armstrong's second goal of the game.

After the game, Lemaire said his players need to find a pattern on the ice.

"We have to play a pattern game," Lemaire told Gulitti. "Every play is pretty much a pattern. There's no deviation on anything so guys will know what his partner will do. Sometimes it looks like we haven't played together in years - [like] it's the first time we played with the group."

Lemaire also questioned the team's conditioning.

"I was playing three lines at a time to try and get them going," Lemaire said to Gulitti. "At that time, I thought the guys were getting too tired, so I had to put the fourth line in. I found out, I felt, that we were not in top shape. That's what we'll start to work on tomorrow."

The Devils have two days to prepare for the New York Rangers. A loss to the rival would be embarrassing and continue their downward spiral into the league's basement.

Game Notes

Pelley's goal was his first since December 27, 2009 against the Washington Capitals...David Clarkson and Patrik Elias each put four shots on goal to lead the Devils...Before their powerplay goal, New Jersey hadn't converted on seven straight extra-man opportunities.

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New Jersey Devils: Leafs Lead, 3-0, After Two Periods

The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the New Jersey Devils, 3-0, after the second period tonight at the Prudential Center.

The Devils led the period in shots, 10-9. They hold the advantage in total shots, 17-14.

Leading 1-0, John Mitchell extended his team's advantage to two at 8:45 of the period. Kris Versteeg drove toward the net and put a shot on goal. Martin Brodeur stopped the initial shot, but the puck laid in the crease near his right pad. Mitchell chipped the puck up over the pad for his second goal of the season.

Nikolia Kulemin pushed the lead to 3-0 at 17:23 of the period. Clarke McArthur fed Kulemin in the slot, and he drifted into the left circle. With MacArthur screening, Kulemin whipped a shot past Brodeur for his 12th goal of the season.

Ilya Kovalchuk and Dion Phaneuf dropped the gloves at 4:54 of the period. The players almost dropped the gloves in the first period. Kovalchuk skated away from that meeting, but didn't ignore Phaneuf the second time. The Leafs' captain hit Kovalchuk in the face with his stick, and both players came together in the corner. Phaneuf threw an elbow into Kovalchuk as the Devils left-winger slashed Phaneuf's stick. Both players tangled, and Phaneuf landed more punches in the ensuing scrum.

The Devils powerplay, a strength the past few weeks, is 0-for-2 tonight. They've failed to connect on their last six chances.

New Jersey has only one come from behind victory this season.

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Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils: Armstrong Goal Puts Leafs Ahead, 1-0, After One Period

The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, after the first period tonight at the Prudential Center.

The Devils lead in shots, 7-5.

A Devils' defensive zone miscue turned into a goal by Colby Armstrong at 13:50 of the period. Brian Rolston attempted to pass the puck across his own defensive zone. Kris Versteeg deflected the pass, and the puck bounced to Armstrong in the slot. Armstrong shot the fluttering puck past Martin Brodeur's glove for his second goal of the season.

This is the fifth straight game the Devils surrendered the first goal. 

New Jersey couldn't connect on earlier chances to take the lead. With the Devils on a powerplay, Dainius Zubrus missed a golden opportunity. Zubrus moved into the Leafs' zone and whistled a shot from the right circle. The puck beat Jonas Gustavsson but clanged off the post.

Travis Zajac almost broke through at 8:57 of the period. Jamie Langenbrunner fed Zajac on the crease, but Gustavsson went to the splits and made the stop.

The second period hasn't been kind to New Jersey this season. Opponents have outscored the Devils, 41-27, during the middle period.

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Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils: Lemaire Looking To Turn Devils Around

Jacques Lemaire's third stint with the New Jersey Devils didn't start as planned.

On Thursday night, New Jersey allowed three first period goals en route to a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders. That left the Devils, perennial playoff contenders, last in the league.

Lemaire will look to begin New Jersey's turnaround tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center.

New Jersey - losers of four straight and nine of 10 games - are free falling out of playoff contention. Their game contains a myriad of problems. The offense has scored one goal in 20 of 34 games. Ilya Kovalchuk has eight goals, and Jason Arnott leads all scorers with nine. The defense has been just as atrocious. New Jersey, winners of the Jennings Trophy last season, has already allowed 108 goals this season. Defenseman Andy Greene (-23) and Henrik Tallinder (-21) are among the worst plus/minus players for the Devils. 

With those numbers in mind, Lemaire took a different approach to today's morning skate. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record it was "a little more in your face pre-game skate than normal." 

Lemaire wanted his team to practice game situations before tonight.

"You get in the practice, you make them work and they work in the games," Lemaire said to Gulitti. "Now, everyone their mind is somewhere else in a way (because of) the defeat, mistakes and not doing well. Now you've got to build it up, so we get stronger mentally and we can play the game for 60 minutes being positive and working."

The Devils face a struggling Maple Leafs team tonight. Toronto dropped their last game, 6-3, to the Atlanta Thrashers Monday night in Toronto. Freddy Modin and Tobias Enstrom scored 28 seconds apart to put Atlanta ahead, 2-0. Modin would strike again in the second period, putting the Thrashers ahead 3-1. The Maple Leafs pulled to within 5-3 in the third period, but Andrew Ladd iced the victory with an empty-net goal.

The loss was Toronto's third straight.

The Maple Leafs face many of the same issues as the Devils. Little offense and terrible defense brought them a 12-17-4 record.

The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils, 3-1, on November 18 at the Prudential Center. Mikhail Grabovski struck first, giving the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead at 1:42 of the second period. Phil Kessel pushed the lead to 2-0 at 7:29 of the period. Dainius Zubrus cut the lead in the half, but the Devils couldn't overcome the deficit. Kris Versteeg ended any hopes of a comeback with a powerplay tally at 13:17 of the final period.

Lemaire was hoping his pre-game practice would restore some confidence to his team.

"It's nice to be able to work with them a little bit because I think this is what we need: practices," Lemaire told Gulitti. "We need this so they really understand what we're trying to achieve and what we want, how the game should be played. Because, probably with the lack of confidence, we deviate from how we should play.

"When you lose confidence, then you don't work as hard," the Devils coach said. "You don't backcheck as hard. You don't stop in your zone. You don't do the little things that you should do when things aren't going well that you will do when things go well."

Martin Brodeur, loser of his last four starts, will be in net tonight for New Jersey. In 45 starts against Toronto, Brodeur is 19-16-7-2 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.

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