Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Confident Leafs focused on avoiding 'Trap Game' against Devils

by Adam Proteau Proteautype / MapleLeafs.com

Riding the wave of a three-game win streak to start the 2017-18 regular season, the Maple Leafs went back to work Tuesday at their practice facility focused on their next opponent - the New Jersey Devils, who finished the 2016-17 campaign with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. However, this year's Devils team is also unbeaten - they've won both of their first two games in convincing style, beating their opponents by a combined score of 10-3 - and Toronto head coach Mike Babcock stressed the dangers of taking their talents for granted when they face off at Air Canada Centre Wednesday.

Riding the wave of a three-game win streak to start the 2017-18 regular season, the Maple Leafs went back to work Tuesday at their practice facility focused on their next opponent - the New Jersey Devils, who finished the 2016-17 campaign with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. However, this year's Devils team is also unbeaten - they've won both of their first two games in convincing style, beating their opponents by a combined score of 10-3 - and Toronto head coach Mike Babcock stressed the dangers of taking their talents for granted when they face off at Air Canada Centre Wednesday.

"Tomorrow could be a trap game, because you think New Jersey hasn't been as good, but they're flying," Babcock told Leafs Nation Network Tuesday afternoon. "Their forwards (have) great speed, they're playing a tight game, they're doing a good job in the neutral zone and D zone, so it's one of those games that you've got to be prepared. They think they're good - they've had a good exhibition (season), they're going good. They're no different than us. We think we're good too, so we'll find out tomorrow. But a big part of it is, when you win a game, it's enjoying that, but getting ready the next day and getting your energy up and getting ready for the next one."

The Buds were less than 24 hours removed from a thrilling, come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win over the always-dangerous Chicago Blackhawks, and for the third time in as many games, the Leafs benefitted from terrific depth. On this night, centre Auston Matthews scored the game-winner with a laser-like shot over the shoulder of Hawks goalie Anton Forsberg, but Toronto also received impressive performances from winger Connor Brown and blueliner Nikita Zaitsev, each of whom had a goal and two points.

Brown in particular was a standout, a fact reflected in the amount of penalty-killing time (5:09) he played, as well as his contributions on the power play and at even strength. The 23-year-old's total ice time of 17:49 was a high for this season, and it's also an indication of just how much talent the Leafs have up front. They don't need to lean on one line - and, just as importantly, players such as Brown don't shoehorn themselves into the mindset of specific roles. Some might analyze Brown's status as a fourth-liner on this Buds squad, but as Babcock noted, the player himself certainly doesn't.

"He's just a good player," Babcock said of Brown, who posted 20 goals and 36 points in his rookie NHL season last year. "I've said it all along - he doesn't think he's a fourth-line player at all. He's an elite penalty-killer, and he makes good plays as you saw last night. I thought he had real good jump and was one of our best players, so he ended up playing more and being a real contributor last night. The other thing about having 10 top-nine forwards is you're in a spot that everyone knows each night if you're not going, someone else is sliding right into your spot, which doesn't hurt."

The Leafs' depth became more apparent as Monday's game unfolded: Toronto began the night on the wrong foot, allowing the Hawks to jump out to a 2-0 lead some eight minutes into the first period. However, the Buds outshot Chicago 36-12 after the opening frame and had their opponents reeling for the majority of the night. Considering the Blackhawks' championship pedigree, that's no small feat.

"I thought a few times, especially in the second and third period, we were all over the puck, creating turnovers, cycling it down low and hanging onto it, wearing on their D and on their forwards," said Matthews, whose game-winner was his second goal and fifth point of the season. "That's the way we want to play - a smart game, not turning the puck over, just getting it in and making smart plays and getting it to the net."

"We have four really good lines, and when we're rolling, we're rolling, and we're hard on the other team's defence," added Matthews' linemate Zach Hyman. "We can put a lot of pressure, and sustained pressure, and I think that bodes well for our game plan."

The Leafs now turn their attention to the Devils, who defeated the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres in their first two games this season. They're led by elite goaltender Cory Schneider, but they've also been quietly building up a foundation of skilled youngsters, including 2017 No. 1-overall draft pick Nico Hischier, winger Taylor Hall and former Capitals centre Marcus Johansson.

When asked about New Jersey, Matthews said he recognizes some similarities between them and the Leafs team he joined last season - which is another reason the Buds shouldn't be taking the Devils lightly.

"I feel like they're kind of in the situation that we were in last year," Matthews said. "They've drafted pretty well, they've got some really good young players and they're building their team up from a good core. So they're going to be a good test for us, and I'm sure they're saying the same thing over there."

View More