By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night hoping for a repeat performance of their 5-2 win in New Jersey on Tuesday. It wasn’t to be as the Devils outscored the Maple Leafs 6-5 in a wide-open contest.

Related: Rising Above Adversity: Samsonov’s Success with the Maple Leafs

The Good

Auston Matthews

Auston Matthews keeps rolling as he rewrites the Maple Leafs history book. He scored his 67th and 68th goals of the season. He has three games to get to the magical number 70, which no NHL player has done in 30 years. 

Matthews has 367 career goals, two more than Dave Keon, and sits third in all-time goals for a Maple Leafs player. He needs 22 to catch second-place Darryl Sittler (367) and 53 to catch first-place Mats Sundin (420). Matthews has accomplished this in just 559 games, just under 300 games less than Sittler, 400 games less than Sundin, and 500 games less than Keon. Amazing!

One other statistic of note is that Matthews has 51 even-strength goals this season. He is the first NHL player to score over 50 even-strength goals since Teemu Selanne scored 52 in 1992-93. reports that only five other players in the league history have scored more even-strength goals in a season. Wayne Gretzky did it three times (68, 55, 54), Brett Hull once (57), Jari Kuri (54), Steve Shuttt (52), and Selanne (52) once. 

John Tavares

John Tavares scored twice in the game including the 5-5 game-tying goal with just under five minutes left. The 2023-24 season has not been considered good for Tavares. He’s scored 26 goals and 62 points in 77 games. That would be a great season for many players, but not for a player who has been regarded as elite and makes $11 Million per season. It is a step down from his usual point-a-game pace. 

If we break Tavares’ season down into three segments, we find he started the season well, with seven goals, 12 assists, and 19 points in his first 16 games. Then, his production fell off a cliff. In his next 31 games, Tavares managed just six goals and ten assists for 16 points.  Since the All-Star break, Tavares has been back to his usual self, scoring 13 goals and adding 14 assists for 27 points in 30 games. It appears that, rather than eroding his skillset, the middle part of the season was more of an extended slump for Tavares. 

Max Domi

Max Domi scored a Gordie Howe hat trick in the game……sort of. For those who don’t know what a Gordie Howe hat trick is, it is when a player scores a goal or an assist and gets into a fight. Domi assisted on Matthews’ first goal. He fought the Devils’ Simon Nemec after he thought Nemec was roughing up Matthews. (It was Matthews who was roughing up Nemec.) 

Domi then scored Matthews’ second goal. During the play, Matthews stood in front of the New Jersey net with his stick on the ice. Domi banked the puck off Matthews’ stick into the goal. Matthews did not have to do anything other than stand there with his stick on the ice. Domi did the rest. While it technically is not a Gordie Howe hat trick, it is close enough for me. 

After scoring just 25 points in his first 55 games this season, Domi has put up 22 points in his past 27 games. 

The Bad

Special Teams

Toronto won the 5-on-5 portion of this game 5-3. They lost the special teams battle 3-0. The Devils scored three times on four power play opportunities, while the Maple Leafs went zero for three on their man advantages.  

Ilya Samsonov

This was not a good game for Samsonov. He gave up six goals on just 20 shots, a save percentage of 0.700. That said, the Maple Leafs did little defensively to help him. Turnovers in the Toronto zone led to the first two goals. Missed assignments on the penalty kill contributed to three goals—a missed check set up the last New Jersey goal. Still, the Maple Leafs need Samsonov to stop some of those six shots that got by him.  

Ilya Samsonov, Maple Leafs

Every goalie has bad games, though. What is most important is how Samsonov comes back in his next game. Since his return from his little exile to the minors, Samsonov has been one of the best goalies in the league. Can he shrug off this game? We will have to see. 

The Ugly

Errors. Mistakes. More Errors.  

The Maple Leafs were the better team in this game. They outplayed the Devils as badly as they did in the last game. If we look at the High-Danger Chances for the two games, according to, in the 5-2 game, the Maple Leafs had 17 to the Devils’ seven in all situations. Last night, the High-Danger Scoring Chances in this game were 18-7 for Toronto. The Maple Leafs were a little worse in Expected Goals, with 65% compared to 75% in the first game. But it was still a dominant performance. 

Individual errors were the Devils’ undoing in this game. The first two goals the Devils scored were unassisted. Why? because they came off of direct turnovers by the Maple Leafs in the Toronto end of the ice.

The first New Jersey goal was scored 39 seconds into the game and 21 seconds after Toronto took a 1-0 lead. It came off a turnover by TJ Brodie. Brodie touched the puck three times leading up to the goal but failed to make a play on all three occasions. The Devils were putting pressure on Brodie behind the Toronto net. Brodie should have just eaten the puck and protected it until help could arrive, but he attempted, and failed, to move it each time he touched it. The last time, he put it right on the stick of goal scorer Erik Haula.

On the second New Jersey goal, Mark Giordano had tons of space and all the time in the world to do something with the puck in the Toronto zone. There were safe options for him. He had Simon Benoit along the boards to his left and Connor Dewar on the other side of the Toronto goal. He could have reversed the puck to behind the net. Instead, he attempted a dangerous pass up the middle to David Kampf. The pass ended up right on the stick of Nolan Foote, who was ten feet in front of Samsonov. 

TJ Brodie, Maple Leafs

The next three goals the Devils scored were on the power play. One was the Domi penalty for instigating the fight with Nemec. One was when Matthews accidentally tripped Luke Hughes. The second power-play goal by New Jersey involved a bad call and a bad non-call by the referees. The original penalty was called on Brodie for hooking on Jesper Bratt. Brodie did have his stick in front of Bratt when Bratt fell, but it was not in contact with any part of Bratt. Bratt lost an edge when he tried to reverse to avoid Brodie. 

Then, on a lost draw in the Toronto zone by Pontus Holmberg when the puck went back to the point, Dawson Mercer held Dewar’s stick, preventing Dewar from getting out to cover Timo Meier. There was no call on Mercer, and Meier’s goal counted. 

On the winning goal, for some reason, 6-foot-5 and 220-pound Joel Edmundson decided it was a good idea to play the puck instead of the body. That allowed the 5-foot-10 and 175-pound Bratt to squeeze between him and the boards to get by him. All Edmundson had to do was take a step forward, and there was no way Bratt was going anywhere.  

What’s Next?

While the Maple Leafs lost this game, the Florida Panthers shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0. The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in overtime. That leaves Toronto five points behind the Panthers and five points up in the Lightning with three games left.  That means the Maple Leafs can prepare to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Florida next weekend. 

Toronto is home to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. They then fly to Florida and can spend the whole week preparing for Game One. They have two exhibition games to help prepare them. One is against the Panthers on Tuesday night and one against the Lightning on Wednesday. If earlier reports are correct, the Maple Leafs will not return home after the Tampa game and remain in Florida. That makes a lot of sense. They must make arrangements for a place to practice, which I am sure they have. 

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

In a perfect Toronto Maple Leafs world, Matthews would score two goals in the Detroit game to reach 70, so distraction would be out of the way. It would be a great milestone to see history made, but it is still a distraction. 

While it appeared the goaltending situation was put to rest, we need to see how Samsonov bounces back after a terrible game against the Devils. I would like to see them come back with Samsonov in Detroit and give Joseph Woll one of the two games next week and Martin Jones the other to give Jones some action before the end of the regular season. 

The most exciting (and stressful) time of the year is only a week away. 

Related: Maple Leafs Goalie Choices Over the Next Four Games?

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