Zach Hyman plays key role in win over Devils

There is little John Tavares hasn’t done in his first 43 games with the Maple Leafs. Whether it’s provide leadership at every turn, or consistently produce on offence.

“I just try to go out there and be as best-prepared. Be as consistent as I can be. Try to be hard to defend, find different ways to produce. Not just in certain situations, whether it’s around the net, off the cycle. On the rush, on the power play.”

Tavares scored twice — his first was the 300th of his NHL career — including 29 in a Toronto uniform. The most Tavares has scored in nine seasons with the New York Islanders was 38 in 2014-15. Right now, he’s on pace for 55.

“When it happened, I was just excited we had him on the team,” defenceman Ron Hainsey said of Tavares’ signing in July. “I wouldn’t put a guess on how many goals he would or wouldn’t score. We were getting a centreman who is a great player. He has had a heck of a start.”

The Leafs built a 3-0 lead in the first period on Tavares’ goals and one by Hainsey. But didn’t pay much attention to detail in the second period. The Devils outshot the Leafs 18-13. And, in a span of 26 seconds, scored twice on Michael Hutchinson, courtesy of Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle. To give them more hope than they should have had.

Demonstrating a killer instinct that they lacked in the middle 20 minutes. The Leafs put their collective foot down in the third, outshooting the Devils 15-3. Still, Toronto’s 15th road win of the season was not cemented until Mitch Marner scored into an empty net with 22 seconds remaining.

While the Leafs welcomed Zach Hyman back to the lineup after he missed eight games with a sprained ankle. The Devils continued to forge ahead without the injured Taylor Hall, among others.

Hyman played as though he missed no time at all. Because he finished plus-4 with six shot attempts and provided consistent pressure deep in the offensive zone on a line with Tavares and Marner. His work, along with that of Connor Brown, helped Hainsey score the opener.

“Good to be back,” Hyman said. “It felt good in the first period and thought I had my legs. It was a good team win and happy we got it done.”

Leafs coach Mike Babcock said: “It goes to show you need people to win the puck back and he was able to do that for us.”

Toronto has scored numerous eye-popping goals this season. But the one by Tavares at 19:53 of the first period has to land somewhere in the top five.

Marner’s vision. Equalled by few, allowed him to spot Morgan Rielly across the ice and feed the defenceman with a backhand pass. Rielly took a few strides toward Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid and passed off to Tavares. Who wired a one-timer into the net.

The goal was Tavares’ 301st and was prettier than his 300th. That came at 7:21 of the first when he picked a Jake Gardiner rebound out of a scramble. He moved to his backhand, shrugged off Devils centre Travis Zajac to score.

Meanwhile the Leafs appeared to lose defenceman Travis Dermott. Who hit the boards head-first early in the first when he was hit by Devils forward Brett Seney.

A boarding minor was called. Dermott got up slowly, eventually making his way to the dressing room. Late in the first period, Leafs Nation exhaled as Dermott returned.

Therefore, Dermott went through concussion protocol, but came out of it with a bump on the bridge of his nose.

“I played minor hockey against Brett, so I know there is no bad blood there,” Dermott said. Before adding: “It was kind of an awkward play. I’m not going to hold a grudge on anything. It’s such a fast game. I understand how it developed.”

Meanwhile, Auston Matthews had four shots on goal, but is stuck on one goal in his past eight games.

Peace,

Burke

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