Coach Mike Babcock warned his Leafs about the danger of the young Devils but the message apparently did not get through.
Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha each scored twice and the unbeaten New Jersey Devils recorded the franchise’s first-ever 3-on-5 goal in a 6-3 win over Toronto on Wednesday night, ending the Maple Leafs’ perfect start to the NHL season.
Babcock was unimpressed by a 50-shot barrage on Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, complaining instead about a lack of effort from his team.
“We didn’t have any snap, we didn’t have any juice, we didn’t win any battles,” he said in a pithy post-game news conference that lasted all of two minutes nine seconds.
“We talked quite a lot about this game coming up and how it was going to be,” he added. “And that’s exactly what I expected. But I expected us to compete and that didn’t happen.
“Hockey’s fair. You get what you deserve. That’s what we deserved tonight … I can’t remember the last time we played with that kind of effort.”
New Jersey finished 27th in the league last season, some 25 points behind Toronto. But the Leafs had their hands full with the speedy Devils, who look like a different outfit this season thanks to an influx of young talent.
“A lot different, a lot more speed, a lot more skill,” said Toronto centre Nazem Kadri. “They’ve got tough forwards that can skate. That’s their identity, similar to us.”
Tied 2-2 after 20 minutes — a score Babcock said flattered the Leafs “big-time” — New Jersey (3-0-0) pulled ahead with a pair in the second period despite being outshot 17-12.
A key moment came late in the period with the Devils taking two minors on the same play. Rather than Toronto taking advantage, New Jersey killed off the penalties and scored shorthanded at 14:54 for a 4-2 lead.
Jake Gardiner was unable to keep the puck in at the New Jersey blue line and two Devils broke in. William Nylander’s backcheck swept the puck off Adam Henrique’s stick but the puck unfortunately went straight off goalie Frederik Andersen to Brian Gibbons in front and the Devils winger made no mistake.
“That’s a huge one,” said Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk.
Babcock said he didn’t know if he had ever seen a 3-on-5 goal before.
Blake Coleman added an insurance goal early in the third.
Auston Matthews, with his third of the season, cut the deficit to 5-3 with 6:26 remaining and the Leafs on a two-man advantage. But despite a 20-9 edge in shots in the third, the Toronto comeback fell short and Zacha rubbed salt in the wound with a late tipped goal.
Van Riemsdyk and Dominic Moore also scored for Toronto (3-1-0) before 19,103 at the Air Canada Centre.
Outshot 50-31, New Jersey got a sterling performance in goal from Schneider, whose 47 saves were a career high. It’s the Devils’ first 3-0-0 start since 2014-15.
Both teams had good scoring chances early but Andersen and Schneider held firm. Then the floodgates opened with four goals in five minutes in a back-and-forth first period.
After Van Riemsdyk opened the scoring on the power play at 8:33, New Jersey answered with two Wood goals before Moore tied it up at 2-2.
New Jersey went ahead 3-2 at 9:58 of the second on the power play with rookie Jesper Bratt finding Zacha left alone in front of goal to complete a sweet tic-tac-toe passing sequence. Van Riemsdyk was in the box for slashing.
PPGs don’t get much prettier than this.
Toronto came into the contest having scored 19 goals through its first three games to start the season, second highest in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1917-18 team scored 27.
The Devils have 16 goals in their three outings, the second-highest total in franchise history (17, 1991-92).
The game featured the top overall picks in the last two drafts: Toronto’s Matthews (2016) and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (2017).
But Bratt has hogged most of the early Devils headlines and came as advertised — quick and shifty.
The 19-year-old Swede, taken in the sixth round (162nd overall) in 2016, is the first player in franchise history (and one of just five NHLers in the past 17 seasons) to notch five points (three goals, two assists) in his first two NHL games.
His NHL account now stands at six points. Rookie defenceman Will Butcher had two assists to push his points total to five.