Among the multitude of problems facing the New Jersey Devils (10-7-2), the most glaring may be its play in the third period.
New Jersey was dominated again in the games final period, allowing three goals in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-9-0) at Air Canada Centre.
Nazem Kadri led the Leafs with two points (1g, 1a). Four different players scored for Toronto, who move three points ahead of New Jersey and remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Marek Zidlicky led New Jersey with two goals. It was his first multi-goal game since January 19, 2009, when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild.
New Jersey dropped all three games on its road trip and returns home on a five game losing streak. It’s the longest streak since December of the 2010-11 season. That was the last time the Devils missed the playoffs.
Johan Hedberg, starting his fifth straight game in place of the injured Martin Brodeur, stopped 19 shots. He’s lost his last six starts, allowing 25 goals.
The Devils led, 2-1, after two periods, but Toronto took over in the third.
Jay McClement tied the game in under a minute to start the final period, converting on a Patrik Elias turnover.
The Devils left wing tried to send a cross-ice pass in the Devils zone, and McClement picked off the pass. He came in alone on Hedberg, sending a backhand shot on net. The puck deflected off the post and the Devils goalie before finding its way into the net.
That score opened the floodgates.
Clark McArthur scored the game-winning goal later in the period, burning the Devils with a power-play goal. Andrei Loktionov took a penalty in the Maple Leafs end, giving Toronto it’s fourth power play chance of the night. Stopped on its first three, the Leafs broke through on its final man advantage of the game. McArthur took a pass from Kadri in front, jamming the puck through Hedberg’s pads for his sixth goal of the season.
Phil Kessel iced the win with his fifth goal of the season just over two minutes later. The Leafs right wing finished off a two-on-one break with James van Riemsdyk, snapping home a saucer pass past the outstretched pads of Hedberg for his fifth goal of the season.
The score broke a nine-game goal drought on home ice for Kessel. He entered the game against New Jersey with four points, all assists, in nine home games.
Trailing 1-0 at the end of the first period, Zidlicky scored twice to give New Jersey their only lead.
Zidlicky struck first at the 5:43 mark to tie the game at one. Ryan Carter won a face off in the left circle, sending the puck back to Zidlicky at the point. He carried the puck into the left circle before firing a shot past a screened James Reimer for his second goal of the season.
The Devils defenseman struck again later in the period, finishing a two-on-one rush with Carter to push New Jersey ahead. Krys Barch knocked Frazer McLaren off the puck at the Devils blue line. Zidlicky gathered the puck and sped through the neutral zone, crossing the Leafs blue line before dropping a pass to Carter. The Devils right wing sent a return pass to Zidlicky, and his wrist shot beat Reimer past the glove for his second of the period.
Zidlicky’s two goal game was the first since Kurtis Foster scored two goals against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 4, 2012.
That wouldn’t be enough to stop Reimer, who made 28 saves in the win.
Kadri opened the scoring in the first period. The Leafs center tried to center a pass from the left circle to a rushing Leo Komarov, but Hedberg reached out with his stick to block the puck. It inadvertently deflected off his stick and between his pads.
Tonight was the first of a back-to-back games for New Jersey. They return home tomorrow night to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The loss pushed the Devils to 2-3-0 in the first game of a back-to-back series.
Loktionov had his career-high four game point streak snapped. The center had collected five points (3g, 2a) in the previous four games.
David Clarkson played his 400th game tonight. The Devils right wing failed to score a goal in his eighth straight game.
New Jersey has not defeated Toronto in regulation in the last five meetings. Including tonight’s loss, the Devils are 0-3-2 against the Leafs in the last five contests.