Colby Armstrong scored twice and Jonas Gustavsson made 29 saves in the Devils’ 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.
An announced crowd of 5,329 came out to Prudential Center, braving blizzard conditions while up to two feet of snow fell on parts of the tri-state area.
An announced crowd of 5,329 devoted fans turned out at the Rock.
Inside the Rock, the Devils' skid continued.
In Jacques Lemaire's second game back behind the bench, he did see some improvement, though. The next two days of practice will be important to try and smooth out more wrinkles before Wednesday's home meeting with the Rangers.
The Devils (9-24-2) have dropped five in a row and 10 of their last 11.
"We have to play a pattern game," Lemaire said. "Every play is pretty much patterned, so there's no deviation on anything you will do. So the guys they know what his partner will do. Sometimes it looks like we haven't played together for years. (Like) it's the first time we've played with the group there."
Martin Brodeur allowed three goals on 14 shots through two periods, and was relieved by Johan Hedberg to start the third. Hedberg made seven saves on eight shots in his fifth relief appearance of the season.
"It's coach's decision," Brodeur said. "It's never fun to get pulled. I like to work through some of the stuff that I'm doing out there, but we'll do it in practice, I guess."
Armstrong capitalized on a Brian Rolston defensive zone turnover to give Toronto a 1-0 lead at 13:50.
"If it wasn't for the breakdowns that we've given up, I think we've dictated most of games," Brodeur said. "I thought we were pushing the puck well, we had some good shifts. We got some, not unbelievable offense as far as quality chances, but we spent less time in our zone doing a lot of good, little things. When we stop making huge mistakes and make a couple of saves, we'll be in games."
Once again, the Devils found themselves in an early hole.
"After they scored, we really dropped, started to make plays that weren't there and hoping that the player would get the puck," Lemaire said. "Things like that that you shouldn't do, especially when you're not on top of your game. You try to keep it as simple as possible."
Rod Pelley's power-play goal was the Devils' lone tally, and made it 3-1 in the third period.
Frustrations boiled over in the second, when Ilya Kovalchuk fought Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf. The Devils continue to struggle offensively, and have tallied just five times on their current losing streak.
Kovalchuk’s bout with Phaneuf was his second of the season. He previously dropped the mitts with Mike Green at Washington on Oct. 9. After exchanging some bumps in the first period, the two went at it again in the second.
"It's hockey and that happens," Kovalchuk said. "It's part of the game."
Phaneuf delivered a check in the Leafs' zone before Kovalchuk shoved back. The two wrapped up, with Phaneuf getting the gloves off first. Kovalchuk was cut by his own visor during the fight and sported a bright red cut on his right cheek after the game.
"We need him on the ice, we don't need him to start to get in fights," Lemaire said. "This will happen. It's things that happen."
Armstrong opened the scoring. Rolston’s pass attempt along the left wall was deflected by Kris Versteeg right to Armstrong between the circles. He gathered the puck and put it over Brodeur’s catching glove for a 1-0 Leafs lead at 13:50.
"I had possession of it around the hash marks and a defenseman in front," Rolston said. "I was trying to hit our defenseman in front and their guy deflected it up in the air to the front of the net. I shouldn't have made the play to the front of the net, I should've held it."
Toronto struck twice more in the second period for a 3-0 edge. Versteeg sliced into Devils territory for a shot from the bottom of the left circle that Brodeur stopped. John Mitchell was stationed in front to collect the loose change at 8:45. The goal came five seconds after Anton Volchenkov had exited the box for a holding minor.
Nikolai Kulemin piled on with 2:37 to go in the second. He flipped deep into the New Jersey zone, then drove to the net to receive a Clarke MacArthur pass. Kulemin controlled for a wrister from the left circle that beat Brodeur stick side.
With the Devils on the power play in the third, Pelley collected a Mark Fayne pass at the left circle and snapped a shortside laser past Gustavsson at 12:27. Armstrong restored Toronto’s three-goal lead at 16:47 with a wrister from the left circle between Hedberg’s pads. The assist was Fayne's first NHL helper.
Hedberg made some strong saves, denying Phil Kessel’s deflection on the doorstep at 1:36, then MacArthur’s redirection at 9:12.
Coach's quotes Lemaire on Kovalchuk, who played a physical game in addition to his fight:
"He's trying. He's trying to get out of it, too. You look at the power play, we moved the puck really well. We had good chances, missed the net on those. He had three, four one-timers that he could have scored on. Some, most of the them missed the net. This is what I was asking the coaching staff: 'Does he practice it?' They say, 'Yeah, every practice he's doing great, he doesn't miss one, it's in the net, it's in the corners. Then he comes in the game, he's tight.' That's what happens."
Clarkson applauds fan support Fans that braved serious snow conditions to come to Sunday's game were rewarded in the second period, when they were allowed to fill into the seats down near the glass.
"It shows the type of fans we have," said David Clarkson. "I've said this for years: I love being a Devil and I think fans in New Jersey are unbelievable, especially when we're playing hard for them and giving them everything we have every night. They come out and support us. Right now is a tough time to be a fan, to be a player, it's tough. But they've been behind us for years."
Clarkson continued: "The fans have been great, there's not much more you can say. For that many of them to come out when some (players') familiies didn't even make it because of the weather, it was great to see."
The Devils went 1-for-5 on the power play. The penalty kill was excellent in the third, defending a 4-on-3 for 1:09 and a 5-on-3 for 31 seconds. Toronto finished 0-for-5 with the man advantage. … Dainius Zubrus hit the right post at 4:28 of the first period, during the Devils’ first power play. … Matt Corrente was a healthy scratch. … The homestand continues Wednesday against the Rangers. Atlanta visits for a 5 p.m. puck drop on New Year’s Eve. Fans will be treated to a fireworks show after the game.