Tavares, Hall square off for Leafs, Devils

NEWARK, N.J. — John Tavares and Taylor Hall were top overall picks one year apart with the New York Islanders in 2009 and Edmonton Oilers in 2010, and both are playing on the second teams of their careers.

Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs started off quickly and have maintained a winning record while Hall and the New Jersey Devils are struggling of late following a quick start in the opening weeks of the season.

Tavares and Hall may not oppose each other for the second time this season Tuesday night when the Maple Leafs visit the Devils.

Toronto (21-10-2) started with six wins in its first seven games then won 12 of 15 from Nov. 3-Dec 4. The Maple Leafs make their first visit to New Jersey 1-2-2 in their last five games and are hoping to avoid their first three-game losing streak since a four-game skid Feb. 26-March 5.

Tavares, who is in his first year of a seven-year contract with Toronto, following nine seasons with the New York Islanders, leads the Maple Leafs with 20 goals and is third on the team with 34 points. He has three goals during this mini five-game slide and scored his 20th goal in the third period of Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss at Florida.

Mitchell Marner scored twice but coach Mike Babcock was not thrilled with the effort, especially after the Leafs allowed at least four goals for the fourth time in five games,

“I don’t sit here and come walk out to this and say, ‘Jeez, the wheels are off here.’ I don’t see that at all,” Babcock said. “We weren’t good enough, that’s it. Didn’t play hard enough.”

Besides effort, Babcock will be hoping to see some improvement on the power play. Toronto was 0-for-4 Saturday and is 2-for-21 in its last seven games since getting three power-play goals in a 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 28.

“Obviously, we’re trying to make adjustments, but at the same time we’re not trying to do too much either,” Tavares said. “You don’t want to get too far away from what makes you successful and it’s just finding that right balance. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, doesn’t bounce your way and other times it seems like everything is bouncing your way. We just have to stay with it and find a way to generate some results from that to give us a better chance in these games.”

Toronto will try to correct those things before it spends a significant portion of the next few weeks at home. After Tuesday, the Maple Leafs play 14 of their next 19 games at home.

Hall missed the last two games with a lower-body injury when the Devils rallied from a three-goal deficit in a 5-4 overtime win over Vegas Friday and then scored the tying goal late in the third period of a 2-1 shootout loss at Nashville on Saturday.

While Hall sat out, Brian Boyle scored the tying goal with 91 seconds left in regulation and Keith Kinkaid made 27 saves.

“It’s one of the best teams in the league and I thought we certainly could have come out with two points,” Devils center Blake Coleman said. “I thought we deserved better. If we deserve two points every night, they are going to start to come.”

Hall practiced on the first line Monday with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri and will participate in the morning skate to see if he can return.

Hall leads the Devils with 31 points but his eight goals are fourth on the team. He has one goal in his last seven games through Hall also has seven assists in that span.

The Devils are 7-13-7 since winning their first four games and 5-8-6 in their last 19 games since they were last over .500 following a 5-1 win at Pittsburgh on Nov. 5. One of those losses was a 6-1 defeat in Toronto on Nov. 9 when Tavares scored and was among 10 players with at least a point.

While Hall could return, the Devils will not have Cory Schneider available since he was placed on injured reserve with an abdominal strain. He was pulled from Friday’s game after allowing three goals in the opening 10 minutes and is 0-5-1 with a 4.66 goals-against average since returning from offseason hip surgery.

Tavares has 14 goals in 38 career games against the Devils and his team is 13-4 in the last 17 games he has played against them.