The Toronto Maple Leafs are riding high with a season-best four-game winning streak, with the last three victories coming without Auston Matthews in the lineup. The reigning Calder Trophy recipient could return to the ice Thursday as the Maple Leafs aim to avenge an early-season loss when they host the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s always frustrating to miss games – just watching (stinks). You want to be out there, and help contribute,” Matthews told TSN. “At the end of the day, your health is important. For (the injury) to not fully recover and then (you) tweak it again, you’re back to square one.” The 20-year-old Matthews leads the team in goals (10) and points (19) despite missing the last week, and he netted a 5-on-3 tally in Toronto’s 6-3 setback against New Jersey on Oct. 11. Devils forward Miles Wood scored twice in that contest and answered notching one point in his previous 10 games with three goals and an assist in Sunday’s 7-5 win at Chicago. New Jersey’s scoring output versus the Blackhawks was exactly half of the total from its previous six games this month.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG (New Jersey), TSN4 (Toronto)
ABOUT THE DEVILS (11-4-2): While New Jersey’s offense was clicking in the last game, coach John Hynes was none-too-pleased with what he saw at the other end of the ice - and he let the team know it on Wednesday. “He was right, everything he said was right,” defenseman Steven Santini told NorthJersey.com. “We’ve got to close guys out and be harder defensively, so I don’t think it’s a secret. He addressed it before practice, and he made sure he was addressing it during practice. I think the message got across and we’ll have it figured out by Thursday night.” Cory Schneider will get the nod after matching his career high with 47 saves in the first meeting at Toronto.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (12-7-0): James van Riemsdyk has picked himself up from a modest slump that bridged October and November, capping back-to-back multi-point performances with a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Boston. The 28-year-old New Jersey native also scored in the first encounter with the Devils this season and has collected 11 goals and 19 points in 26 career meetings with the Garden State residents. Frederik Andersen, who was shredded for all six goals by New Jersey last month, has permitted just seven tallies in his last three outings.
1. New Jersey C Travis Zajac (torn left pectoral muscle) is expected to be activated from injured reserve and return to the lineup on Thursday.
2. Toronto D Morgan Rielly recorded a goal and an assist against the Bruins, increasing his point total to 13 (three goals, 10 assists) in the last 14 games.
3. Devils rookie C Nico Hischier has notched seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last six contests.
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 4, Devils 1