The New Jersey Devils have risen to the top of the Atlantic Division in spite of lackluster play on the road. They’ll need to start playing better away from home immediately to keep their division lead.
The Devils try to end their road struggles both overall and in Toronto (11-5-4) on Saturday when they open a five-game trip against the Maple Leafs.
New Jersey (11-6-1) leads the Atlantic with 23 points and has won five of its last six games after Friday night’s 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The only loss during the current stretch came on Tuesday, 3-2 to the New York Rangers in the Devils’ last road game.
That defeat dropped New Jersey to 3-5-0 on the road this season, compared with 8-1-1 at home. The Devils have been outscored 24-16 in their eight road games while converting only 4-of-44 (9.1%) power-play opportunities.
None of this season’s road contests have been at Toronto, but it is not a place where the Devils have fared well recently. New Jersey has lost five of six visits to Toronto since the start of the 2002-03 season, getting outscored 12-5 in those games.
At home, New Jersey had its best offensive night of the season Oct. 12 against the Maple Leafs, winning 7-6 in a shootout. Brian Gionta had his first career hat trick to lead the Devils, giving him four goals and three assists in his last four games against the Maple Leafs.
The line of rookie center Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise provided all of the Devils’ offense Friday. Langenbrunner scored twice and set up Parise’s goal. Parise added two assists, while Zajac assisted on all three scores.
“Each game we’re getting more confidence with each other,” Zajac said. “It’s from talking on and off the ice and getting comfortable with each other. It’s been good for us so far.”
Scott Gomez has missed the last six games with a groin injury and is questionable for this game. New Jersey has three days off after this contest before continuing its five-game trip Wednesday at Phoenix.
The Leafs earned a point Thursday night at Boston, but saw their four-game winning streak snapped with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Bruins in which they got outshot 36-25.
“Sometimes you leave it all in practice,” Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. “We didn’t skate the way I thought we would.”
Raycroft returned to practice on Friday, but is unlikely to play against New Jersey.
“He’d have to come in and feel 100 percent,” Maurice told mapleleafs.com. “I’m not sure he’s going to be far enough along. I’d like to see him get a few more practices in. That’s the kind of injury you want to be sure. And yes, some of it is weighted to the fact J.S. (Aubin) is playing well. There doesn’t seem to be a great need to push this along.”
Aubin struggled in last month’s meeting with the Devils, stopping only 24 of 30 shots in regulation and overtime.