Devils-Maple Leafs Preview
The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in an ugly stretch and nearing their longest losing streak of the season.
At least their next opponent is one they have dominated recently.
The Maple Leafs look to end a four-game skid with their sixth consecutive win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night at Air Canada Centre.
Since a shootout victory over Detroit on New Year's Day in the Winter Classic, the Maple Leafs (21-20-5) have been outscored 21-7 during four straight losses.
Their best performance of the stretch came in Friday's 3-2 defeat at Washington. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk each scored and Jonathan Bernier stopped 32 shots in his return to the net after backing up James Reimer a night earlier.
"(That) might be one of the better games we've played in a month. We showed desperation. We showed that we care," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We've been begging, pleading, kicking, kissing, whatever we can do to try and find a way to play with some confidence. It seems like we've squeezed our sticks here. It's mind boggling."
Carlyle's club has only seven wins in its last 23 games (7-12-4) overall and has allowed 12 goals in its past two home contests.
Toronto dropped a season-high five in a row Nov. 25-Dec. 3, but two of those games went beyond regulation. The Maple Leafs haven't lost five straight in regulation since a seven-game slide Oct. 3-24, 2009.
"When you're going through a stretch like this and wins are tough to come by and bounces aren't going your way ... that's just the way it is," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf told the team's official website. "You just have to work your way through it. No one else is going to get us out of this."
A matchup with the Devils could be coming at the perfect time.
The Maple Leafs have won the past five meetings and improved to 9-1-3 in the last 13 with a 2-1 shootout victory Nov. 8.
This will be the second game in as many nights for New Jersey (19-18-9), which beat Florida 2-1 in overtime Saturday on Marek Zidlicky's goal with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Jaromir Jagr assisted on the game-winner for his 1,724th point, moving him ahead of former Pittsburgh teammate Mario Lemieux into seventh place on the league's career list.
Saturday's win was the second straight for the Devils following a three-game skid. Cory Schneider has stopped 55 of 56 shots in those victories and will start again Sunday. He made 27 saves in the November loss to Toronto, his only career appearance in the series.
"We're going to be playing back-to-back so we have to find our energy," Schneider said. (Toronto) is a tough place to play. I know they haven't been doing as well as they'd like, so they're going to be energized and ready to go.
"As for me, I feel pretty good. I'm fresh."
Schneider isn't likely to have much room for error since the Devils rank near the bottom of the league with 2.3 goals per game. They've been even worse lately, averaging 1.8 over the last nine contests, but Schneider and Martin Brodeur have combined to allow only 19 goals during that stretch.
Carlyle could switch back to Reimer, who is 4-0-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Devils. He stopped 32 shots in his most recent meeting, a 2-0 win April 15.