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The Globe and Mail

Speedy Devils hand Maple Leafs their first loss of the season

Maple Leafs' Mitchell Marner tries to maintain possession of the puck as New Jersey Devils left wing Brian Gibbons, left, and defenceman Andy Greene track him down in Toronto on Wednesday.


Today's quiz – if you get 50 shots on goal plus a full two-minute, five-on-three power play, what should happen?

No, not a blowout win. To get that, you actually need to do something with the above opportunities.

The Toronto Maple Leafs did something all right with that five-on-three but it wasn't pretty. Somehow they let the New Jersey Devils score the winning goal on it, handing the Leafs their first loss of the NHL season on Wednesday night by a 6-3 margin at the Air Canada Centre.

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"I can't remember the last time we played with that kind of effort," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "Their goaltender was great, I'm not taking anything away from their team, but we didn't have any snap. We weren't very good."

Reputations die hard but these Devils are not the neutral-zone trap kings of old. They have not played that defensive style for a long time, almost as long as their former president and general manager, Lou Lamoriello, has been running the go-go Maple Leafs. Like the Leafs last season, their second under Lamoriello and Babcock, the Devils' rebuilding plan appears to have clicked into gear this season.

The Devils came into the game in second place in the Metropolitan Division and left in first place with a 3-0 record and six points.

"I like them, I think they're fast," Babcock said before the game. "Last year, they were last in shots five-on-five. This year, they're in the top five right away. Now it's a short measure but it's still a different team.

"They play with much more speed, they're on top of you. I think they really work."

Babcock said he was telling his players for two days before the game to be mindful of the change in the Devils but nothing sunk in. Maybe it did in the last five minutes of the second period when the Leafs were handed a five-on-three power play for two minutes with the Devils holding a 3-2 lead.

Only 10 seconds into the power play, the Devils forward Brian Gibbons wound up scoring an unassisted goal. The Leafs managed to cough up the puck in the Devils zone, allowing Gibbons a solo rush. He walked around Leafs forward William Nylander in the slot, although Nylander managed to knock the puck backwards at Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen. The goaltender stopped it but kicked the puck back to Gibbons, who scored to give the Devils a two-goal lead.

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"It's over with now. Obviously the message sent wasn't received the last two days," Babcock said. "By doing the pre-scouting we knew what we were in for but we didn't do our part."

The lesson was driven home again early in the third period with another unassisted goal by the Devils. Leafs rookie defenceman Calle Rosén, who had a tough night along with defence partner and fellow rookie Andreas Borgman, made a bad clearing attempt in his own zone. It was picked off by Devils centre Blake Coleman and his snap shot beat Andersen at 3:35 to make it 5-2 for the visitors. Both of the unassisted goals were scored by members of the Devils' fourth line, by the way.

"They played fast, they forced us into some miscues, you saw that on a couple of goals," said Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who scored the Leafs' first goal. "They played to their strengths and did some good things."

As for the five-on-five play Babcock alluded to, there was precious little of it thanks to the continuing emphasis on slashing and other penalties by the referees. The parade to the penalty box was once again steady, with the Devils taking eight minor penalties to the Leafs' five. That had a lot to do with the 50-31 edge in shots the Leafs enjoyed, although Devils goaltender Cory Schneider was up to the challenge.

"It's tough, real tough," Leafs centre Nazem Kadri said of the penalties. "Obviously there's not a ton of five-on-five opportunities for lines to get going. It's an adjustment we've got to make and an adjustment for the officials. It's something for us to figure out.

"[The Devils] played well. They showed us their speed and we didn't execute enough."

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The Leafs were tied 2-2 with the Devils after the first period. But, as Babcock noted, "I didn't think we worked. I thought they skated us into the ground; they won all the stick battles. It was 2-2 after one but that flattered us."

Van Riemsdyk's power-play goal at 8:33 of the first period gave the Leafs the first lead of the game but it lasted just 34 seconds. Devils winger Miles Wood, son of long-time NHLer Randy Wood, scored twice in the next two minutes and 12 seconds to put the Devils ahead. Pavel Zacha also scored twice for the Devils.

Dominic Moore and Auston Matthews scored the other Leafs goals.

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