Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-4 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils Wednesday at Prudential Center:
1. Matthews ends goal drought - and then some - and adds assist as Leafs have productive first period. There's been some media talk of late regarding the scoreless streak of Leafs centre Auston Matthews, but after the first 20 minutes of Wednesday's tilt with the Devils, there will be no more of that talk. That's because Matthews was focused and a little bit more fortunate than he's been over the course of his 13-game goal drought, and the end result was a two-goal, three-point first period for the rookie that gave Toronto a commanding 3-0 advantage entering the first intermission.
Matthews scored his first of the night at 10:33 of the period, after some solid work deep in New Jersey's zone by linemate Zach Hyman led to Matthews pushing the puck past goalie Cory Schneider for his seventh goal of the season; 1:58 later - and with Toronto on the power play - Matthews was the one doing the heavy lifting near the Devils' goal line and along the boards before he got the puck to centre Nazem Kadri, who netted his eighth of the year; and with 1:08 remaining in the period, Matthews rifled a shot into the net for his second of the game.
The 19-year-old Matthews has for the most part scored in bunches at the NHL level, something that isn't uncommon even for veterans. He's been doing all the right things whether or not the puck has been going in, and that's the bigger and more important point for Leafs Nation to focus on.
2. Devils storm back with three goals early in middle frame. Like Toronto, the Devils were playing their second game in as many nights, but New Jersey showed early in the second period they weren't going to roll over after a sub-par first. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of winger Mike Cammalleri, the host team stormed back and tied the game with three goals in the first 5:30 of the middle period.
Cammalleri amassed two assists in the first 3:10 of the frame, then scored his fourth goal of the year to even the score and force Leafs coach Mike Babcock into calling a timeout. It was not the Leafs' most structurally sound start to a period this year, and it showed virtually no lead is safe in today's NHL.
3. Martin's first as a Leaf halts New Jersey's charge, puts Toronto back in front. Winger Matt Martin has been a staple of the Leafs' fourth line in this, his first year with the organization. He's been looking for his first goal with the Buds for 19 games and hadn't found it - but in his 20th, he struck paydirt, sweeping down the wing to Schneider's left and batting home his own rebound at the 9:26 mark of the second period.
The goal was Martin's 43rd in 458 career regular-season NHL games. More importantly, it put an end to the momentum the Devils had built up early in the frame and it meant Toronto had weathered the storm and still held the lead entering the final regulation period.
4. New Jersey ties things up in a game that probably deserved to go to overtime and beyond. The Devils got the game-tying goal from blueliner Yohann Auvitu at 6:50 of the third frame, and although both sides came close to scoring their fifth of the night - Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk hit the post with less than a minute left in regulation - the teams were even in virtually all regards through 60 minutes: Toronto had 26 shots through three periods, while New Jersey had 27; each team had four takeaways; each side was 1-for-3 on the power play; and the Leafs had eight blocked shots, while the Devils had seven.
The game started in a wild and wooly fashion, but by the time things settled down in the final 35 minutes, there wasn't much to differentiate one group from the other. And though the Leafs had more scoring opportunities in the overtime period - including an excellent individual rush sequence from winger Mitch Marner that nearly won the game for his side - nothing was decided and a shootout was necessary.
5. Devils record only goal of shootout; Leafs head home to prepare for high-octane Caps. The shootout featured Leafs scoring attempts from Matthews, Marner and winger Nikita Soshnikov, but none were able to beat Schneider. Meanwhile, New Jersey managed to get one from center Jacob Josefson, and that was all they needed to improve to 2-0 in shootout games and drop Toronto's record to 0-2 in shootouts.
The Buds earned a standings point in the loss, and their attention now turns to the highly-talented Washington Capitals, who they'll play Saturday at Air Canada Centre. The Caps remain one of the league's most dangerous teams, but their road record (5-2-2) isn't as impressive as their home mark (7-3-0) - and Toronto will be aiming to get back in the win column at home after dropping just their third game at the ACC this year to Carolina Tuesday. It won't be easy, but it almost certainly will be fun - and definitely will be fast.