Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils Saturday at Prudential Center:
Parenteau puts Leafs on scoreboard first, matches career-best in goals.
Veteran winger P-A Parenteau has had an excellent season in his first year with Toronto, and added bounce to his bounce-back year in the team’s final regular-season game Saturday by knocking home a puck that had just been shot off the post by teammate Brooks Laich and giving the visiting Buds a 1-0 advantage on the Devils at 2:53 of the first period.
The goal was Parenteau’s 20th of the year, tying a career-high he set with the New York Islanders in the 2010-11 campaign. With 41 points in 77 games this season, the 33-year-old has proven to be one of the best off-season free-agent signings of any franchise last summer.
Thanks in large part to Sparks, Toronto escapes first period with a tie.
Although the Leafs got on the scoreboard first, New Jersey was all over them for most of the opening frame – and if it weren’t for stellar play by goalie Garret Sparks, Toronto would’ve entered the first intermission dealing with a major deficit.
Sparks turned aside all but one of the shots he saw in the first 20 minutes – only Devante Smith-Pelly was able to beat him, on a shot that came at 9:10 of the frame – and the Buds gave the Devils three power plays while allowing New Jersey to outshoot them 19-5 in the period. Even if you didn’t know New Jersey entered the night averaging an NHL-worst average of 24.3 shots-on-net, you could see the Leafs were lacking when it came to puck possession, and that their goalie was exerting a ton of effort to keep them from falling behind.
Devils take, extend lead on pair of goals from peaking Henrique.
The Leafs weren’t dominated in possession in the second period and outshot New Jersey 10-8, but the Devils took the lead and added to it on two goals from centre Adam Henrique: the first came 58 seconds into the middle frame, and the second at 10:42 to make it 3-1 New Jersey and get the 26-year-old to the 30-goal level for the first time in his five-year NHL career. (His previous career-best was 25 goals, set in 2013-14.)
The two points gave Henrique 50 points on the season – one point below the career-high of 51 he amassed in his rookie year. He’s clearly a cornerstone player for a Devils team that surprised some this season, and his best years may be yet to come.
Campbell records first point as a Leaf – then leaves game with injury.
Playing his sixth game with the Leafs this season, defenceman Andrew Campbell had the secondary assist on Parenteau’s goal to record his first point with Toronto, and his second career assist in 42 games at the NHL level.
But two minutes after Parenteau’s goal, Campbell was hit hard and illegally by Steve Santini on a play that resulted in Santini receiving a two-minute minor for roughing and Campbell leaving the game with an upper body injury. The 28-year-old Campbell has served the organization well in his role as captain of the American League Marlies, and the Leafs organization and fans are hoping this injury doesn’t cut into his AHL playoff run.
And that’s a wrap.
This was Toronto’s final game in a regular season that was, to say the least, difficult for the franchise as it builds to contend in coming years. But, as they’ve shown for the grand majority of contests this season, the Leafs did not have a drop-off in effort level despite being down a couple goals to the Devils, fought until the final buzzer, and had a number of youngsters continue providing confidence the future for the organization is bright.
Seven Leafs players – Sparks, Campbell, William Nylander, Sam Carrick, T.J. Brennan, Tobias Lindberg and Frederik Gauthier – are headed back to the Marlies after the game, and many of them represent that bright future. But it certainly was a credit to head coach Mike Babcock, GM Lou Lamoriello and president Brendan Shanahan that, regardless of who was in the lineup on any given night, Toronto had a work ethic that was a drastic improvement from the previous season. Injuries and trades helped make 2015-16 a mammoth challenge for the team, but the reason a sense of positivity permeated the Leafs and their fan base through 82 games and into the off-season was because everyone recognized the process the Buds are going through is the right one.