Leafs blow 3-goal lead vs. Devils
NEWARK, N.J. — Mike Babcock knows what he signed up for when he puts seven rookie players in the Maple Leafs lineup every night.
But both the joys and the struggles of youth can provide for one wild ride.
There were ample doses of both from the young and grown team in Wednesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils, starting with the long-anticipated second breakout of rookie Auston Matthews young career.
The 19-year-old first overall pick scored a pair of goals and added an assist in the first period as the Leafs stormed out to a 3-0 lead over the road-weary Devils.
The rest of the way it was a challenge, however, as the Leafs squandered that lead just 5:30 into the second period and gave away another one-goal margin in the fourth to settle for a single point.
“It’s evident how young we are,” Babcock said after his team failed to win on the road for just the second time this season. You’re up 3-0 and you come out and the next two plays you make in the second period are basically free gifts.
“Those are things … you’ve got to learn how to win. It’s very evident when you watch us play we’ve got lots to learn.”
Night after night, day after day, Babcock had patiently assured us it would just be a matter of time before Matthews matched his potential with production.
Calmly (for the most part) the Leafs coach talked about the lack of worry over Matthews and his development as a top-flight NHLer, despite that 13-game scoring slump.
But with his pair of goals on Wednesday, Matthews now has eight and is on pace for 33 this season and if there was any confidence gone missing, it has returned.
The 19-year-old American was relieved to finally end his drought — especially given all the chances he’s been getting — but ultimately disappointed with the end result.
“We got too complacent as a team and kind of let our foot off the gas and it’s tough to do in this league,” Matthews said. “Teams are too good, players are too good. It’s something we’ve got to figure out.
“When we get up, we’ve got to play the same way we did to get the lead. It’s something we’ll fix. We’re obviously a young team but that’s no excuse to do that.”
Matthews wound up with a three-point night, each one coming on plays that have showed how good a fit he is in the NHL. He went hard to the net for both goals and again to set up Nazem Kadri for the Leafs’ second goal of the game.
Matthews had two good opportunities to win it late, as well, but was stopped by Devils goalie Cory Schneider, both in the three-on-three overtime session and again in the shootout.
The Devils’ Jacob Josefson scored the lone goal of the penalty-shot competition to give the home team an unlikely win, especially given how they started the game.
Matthews, Mitch Marner and finally Nikita Soshnikov could not beat Schneider in the shootout.
The Leafs took a 4-3 lead in the second period on Matt Martin’s first of the season and first with his new team. But the Devils forced overtime on a controversial goal by defenceman Yohann Auvitu at 6:50 of the third. It appeared that Nick Lappin interfered with Leafs goalkeeper Jhonas Enroth, but Babcock had burned his timeout in the second period and thus couldn’t challenge the play.
“I just know I would have liked to have the timeout at the end,” Babcock said.
Enroth essentially pleaded the fifth, saying he thought there might have been contact, but hadn’t looked at the replay.
Toronto native Mike Cammalleri, back in the Devils lineup after missing six games to be with his sick, young daughter, led the way for the home team with a goal and three assists.
In the end, the Leafs had enough opportunities and enough of a lead that the controversial late goal and the Cammalleri heroics shouldn’t have mattered.
“The bottom line is we’ve just got to do a better job,” Babcock said. “Any time you start 3-0, you put those goals in the bank, collect interest and go and score three more instead of playing like that.”