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.
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.