This could be a make or break week for the New Jersey Devils.
They play five times in seven games, with three at home and two on the road. New Jersey will face two teams either tied or ahead in points, and three times within six points. The Devils recent slide, where its seen a hot start negated by a 2-5-2 record in its last nine games. A four-game winless streak (0-3-1) puts them seventh in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the ninth-place New York Rangers.
“I’m trying not to look at it,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record of the team’s schedule. “I am aware of that. I’ve never put a calendar up on my office Sunday to Sunday and seen five games on it, so this is a first.”
New Jersey kicks off its busy schedule against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. It’s the finale of three-game road trip for the Devils and opens the team’s fifth set of back-to-back games.
Former Devil Mark Fraser will face New Jersey for the first time tonight. The defenseman played parts of three seasons in New Jersey, including 61 games under Jacques Lemaire in 2009-10. The former 84th overall draft pick by the Devils in 2005, Fraser has four points and is tied for the lead league with a plus-15 rating in 19 games.
Toronto has alternated wins and losses over its last seven games, beating the New York Islanders, 4-3, in overtime Thursday. Nazem Kadri recorded his first career hat trick, and Dion Phaneuf scored the game-winning goal at the 1:11 mark of the overtime period. James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto, and leads the Maple Leafs with 12 goals.
The Maple Leafs are just 4-5-0 at home this season, but has won three of its last four on home ice.
New Jersey, still without the injured Martin Brodeur, will look to break its season-long losing streak. The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Devils, 4-3, in a shootout Saturday at the First Niagra Center. Trailing, 1-0, Steve Bernier and Adam Henrique scored to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead. The Sabres stormed back, eventually taking a one-goal lead. Andrei Loktionov tied the game with his third goal of the season. New Jersey couldn’t solve Ryan Miller in the shutout, missing both opportunities and skating away with just one point.
The Devils scored more than two goals for the first time since a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals on February 21.
Toronto native David Clarkson enters the game with a team-leading 10 goals, but hasn’t found the back of the net in seven straight games. He has six goals and no assists in 10 games at the Air Canada Centre. The right wing will appear in his 400th career NHL game tonight.
Johan Hedberg will receive his fifth straight start for the Devils tonight. He’s lost five straight starts, including four in regulation, and allowed 19 goals.
The Maple Leafs won the season series last year, 2-0-2. Clarkson and Henrique led New Jersey with five points against Toronto. Joffrey Lupul recorded five points to lead the Leafs. This is the first of three meetings between the two teams. They’ll play once more at the Air Canada Centre.
Butler Claimed By Nashville
The Nashville Predators claimed Devils right wing Bobby Butler off waivers today.
Butler was called up on February 2 and had two points (1g, 1a) and a minus-6 rating in 14 games. He averaged just under 10 minutes a night.
Nashville will be Butler’s third organization in less than a year. Ottawa bought out the final year of his contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. He signed a one-year, $525,000 contract with New Jersey this summer.
“Good for them. Good kid,” DeBoer told Gulitti about the move. “He did a good job for us here and he did a good job for us here in the role that he played and I think he has the capability of scoring in the league if he gets the right opportunity.”