MAPLE LEAFS (17-27-10) at DEVILS (34-16-2)
Last 10 -- Toronto 2-7-1; New Jersey 4-5-1
Season Series -- This is the first meeting of the season between the two Eastern Conference clubs.
Big Story -- In a scheduling anomaly, the Devils and Maple Leafs will play three times in the next week, including Friday night at Prudential Center, Tuesday at Air Canada Centre and next Friday back in Newark. They'll get to know each other quite well over the course of the next seven days, so any bad blood that starts to boil in this game could certainly spill over into next week.
Devils -- Things are not nearly as bad in Jersey, but coach Jacques Lemaire's club has fallen on some hard times recently. After a convincing 4-2 win on Long Island last Saturday, the Devils dropped a 3-0 decision in Ottawa and then lost in a shootout, 2-1, at Buffalo to close out their three-game road trip. They won four of their first five games in January, but are on a 2-5-1 slide ever since. The Devils are averaging less than two goals per game this month.
That being said, they still lead the Atlantic Division and are six points behind Washington for first place in the Eastern Conference. They outshot the Sabres, 40-31, Wednesday night and were happy with their effort even though they didn't pick up the two points.
"We were smarter with the puck, with possession, with control of the puck," left wing Zach Parise told The Bergen Record. "That was the big difference for us as opposed to the game in Ottawa. But still we've got to find ways to score goals." Maple Leafs -- Things are not good in Leafs Nation. Toronto is winless in four straight (0-3-1) and has won only three of its 13 games this month (3-9-1). The Leafs went 1-3-1 on a recent five-game road trip and returned home only to lose to Los Angeles, 5-3, on Tuesday. More and more players are wondering if Leafs GM Brian Burke is shopping them around. The latest is forward Jamal Mayers, who told the Toronto media on Wednesday that his agent gave Burke permission to shop him to a contending team.
In the meantime, coach Ron Wilson put his team through a hard practice Wednesday that included about 30 minutes of skating without the puck. However, Luke Schenn and Colton Orr nearly came to blows. Things have gotten so bad that now you're hearing about injured players like Mike Komisarek (shoulder) and Mikhail Grabovski (wrist) hoping to heal not so much for the Leafs, but for their respective national teams so they can play in the Olympics. There really is no sugarcoating the obvious. Things are not good in Toronto right now.
"I'm willing to do whatever I can to help the team. If that means moving on, then that's the way it has to be," Mayers said in the Toronto Star. "I haven't had a chance to win yet, so I'd certainly like that opportunity but I can't control that. I certainly like to think I come to the rink every day to play hard."
Who's Hot -- Devils winger Brian Rolston broke a six-game scoreless streak with his goal Wednesday night and Martin Brodeur stopped 39 shots after being yanked in the previous game. … As for the Leafs, Niklas Hagman reached the 20-goal plateau with a pair Tuesday night and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who is on the trading block, added two assists and was a plus-2.
Injury Report -- For the Leafs, Komisarek (shoulder) is due back Saturday against Vancouver while Grabovski (broken wrist) is skating, but may not be back until the Olympics. The Devils are still without Patrik Elias (concussion symptoms), David Clarkson (leg) and Paul Martin (arm). Elias, who has missed six straight games, has been cleared for off-ice workouts. Clarkson and Martin could resume skating this weekend.
Stat Pack -- Of the 12 Olympians that could play in this game, only eight will suit up. Elias, Komisarek, Grabovski and Martin are all out. The others are Brodeur (Canada), Parise (USA), Jamie Langenbrunner (USA), Johnny Oduya (Sweden), Phil Kessel (USA), Tomas Kaberle (Czech Republic), Niklas Hagman (Finland) and Jonas Gustavsson (Sweden).
Puck Drop -- "We're trying to fill guys into roles and fill situations and I think we're just trying to find some right combinations that work right now and make do with the situation we're in," Langenbrunner told The Bergen Record. "It's always tough losing guys. We didn't make excuses early on when we were winning and we're not going to make them when it's a bit of a struggle."