Game Day: Maple Leafs at Devils Terry KoshanMore from Terry Koshan Game Day: Maple Leafs at Devils TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (27-13-2) at NEW JERSEY DEVILS (16-19-7) 7 p.m., Prudential Center, TV: TSN, Radio: 590 AM THE BIG MATCHUP John Tavares vs. Travis Zajac The crafty veteran centres have seen plenty of each other in their respective careers, taking into account Tavares’ lengthy tenure with the New York Islanders before joining the Maple Leafs last summer, and are bound to meet in the faceoff circle for some key draws. Tavares has 28 points in 39 games against the Devils, including one goal and one assist in the Leafs’ 7-2 win in Newark on Dec. 18. For whatever reason, Zajac has not been able to solve the Leafs in his career, recording just 13 points in 37 games. FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME 1. Leaning on Hutchinson Whether Michael Hutchinson has one or two more starts remaining before No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen returns from a groin injury, the 28-year-old will want to build off his three starts with the Maple Leafs in which he has put up a .915 save percentage. We don’t think Garret Sparks will necessarily lose his job as backup because he has a concussion, but Hutchinson, while taking into consideration it’s a small sample size, has provided the kind of depth in net the Leafs needed. Versus the Devils, Hutchinson is 2-0 in his career with a .953 save percentage. 2. Short on power Coach Mike Babcock has made changes to power play units that have produced one goal in the past seven games (on 15 opportunities), dropping Auston Matthews to the second unit and promoting Kasperi Kapanen to the top unit. Something has to give, as the Leafs have too much talent to keep coming up dry with the man advantage. Not that anything comes easy in the NHL, but it certainly won’t on Thursday, as the Devils, led by Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy among others, have the second-best penalty-killing units in the NHL and have killed off 25 of the past 26 power plays. 3. Zach on attack The Leafs aren’t as pugnacious on the forecheck without Zach Hyman, so there should be a boost with the winger returning after missing eight games with a sprained ankle, an injury which just happened to occur in New Jersey on Dec. 18. Hyman doesn’t necessarily run people over, but he brings the Leafs closer to that heavier style of play that Babcock desires. You can bet Hyman, who earlier missed two games because of a suspension, will be raring to go. For the Leafs, that’s nothing but a positive. 4. Production issues The Leafs have been shut out twice in their past four games, so no one presently is filling the net with regularity. A few stand out, most notably Nazem Kadri, who has scored just two goals in his past 24 games. Connor Brown and Patrick Marleau also are among the Leafs who have not contributed much on the scoresheet in recent weeks. And it’s time for William Nylander to bring some more juice to each shift. Encouraging, perhaps, is what happened for the Leafs on their most recent visit to Newark, when they tied a season-high with seven goals. 5. Fun at home The Devils return home after a four-game trip that netted them just two points, going 0-3-1 and ending with a 5-1 loss in Buffalo against the Sabres on Tuesday. The Devils have played just 19 games on home ice, tied for the fewest in the league to date, but have proven to be a tough out in the building nicknamed The Rock, having lost just four times in regulation and going 11-4-4. And while NHL players usually care only about looking ahead, it’s 80’s Night, so the Devils will be wearing the replica sweaters from that era. MAPLE LEAFS LINES LW-C-RW Andreas Johnsson-Auston Matthews-Kasperi Kapanen Zach Hyman-John Tavares-Mitch Marner Patrick Marleau-Nazem Kadri-William Nylander Par Lindholm-Frederik Gauthier-Connor Brown Defence pairs Morgan Rielly-Ron Hainsey Jake Gardiner-Nikita Zaitsev Travis Dermott-Igor Ozhiganov Goaltenders Michael Hutchinson Kasimir Kaskisuo DEVILS LINES LW-C-RW Jesper Bratt-Nico Hischier-Kyle Palmieri Miles Wood-Travis Zajac-Blake Coleman Blake Pietila-Pavel Zacha-Stefan Noesen Brian Boyle-Brett Seney-Drew Stafford Defence pairs Andy Greene-Damon Severson Sami Vatanen-Steven Santini Will Butcher-Ben Lovejoy Goaltenders Keith Kinkaid Cam Johnson INJURIES Devils — LW Taylor Hall (lower body), G Cory Schneider (abdominal), F Marcus Johansson (upper body), RW Joey Anderson (ankle), G Mackenzie Blackwood (lower body). Maple Leafs — G Frederik Andersen (groin), G Garret Sparks (concussion), F Tyler Ennis (ankle). SPECIAL TEAMS Power play Devils: 18.4% (19th) Maple Leafs: 22.3% (8th) Penalty kill Devils: 85.3% (2nd) Maple Leafs: 79.8% (17th) Freddy is not quite ready. After some optimism that Frederik Andersen, Toronto’s No. 1 goalie, was going to return against the New Jersey Devils in Newark — fuelled by his appearance in a couple of practices the past few days — the big Dane dialled it back after Wednesday’s workout. Groin muscle soreness has sidelined him since Christmas. “It’s progressing really well, but right now, we are looking towards Saturday (at home versus Boston),” Andersen said. “We’ve been diligent about how we’re going about it, so we’ll make sure not to rush it like we’ve been talking about.” Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, having spoken to club medical personnel, took that cautionary tone much further, saying not to expect the 20-game winner in the crease until Monday at Scotiabank against the Colorado Avalanche. “We’ll just see. He has to be ready.” Thus, it’s a fourth start for Michael Hutchinson on Thursday, plus a fifth unless there’s a dramatic change in Andersen’s condition by the weekend. The Jersey game will have Kasimir Kaskisuo as the second emergency goalie, given Garret Sparks was not on the ice Wednesday as he gets through a concussion. “Sparks hasn’t been cleared, so I imagine Kas is getting a recall,” Babcock said. One player who will be back on Thursday — and who has been practising like a caged tiger — is left winger Zach Hyman. He has missed eight games because of an ankle injury, one he initially tried to play through. Though not a big-ticket player, Hyman fills a huge role on the line with top scorer Mitch Marner and leading goal man John Tavares. Marner just went through his first two-game scoring drought since mid-November. “He’s huge,” Babcock said of Hyman. “You have different kinds of skill. His is to be able to get the puck back to the net, play with good players, be heavy, play on the penalty kill, take right-hand faceoffs. All those things are important. Obviously, we missed him, though it will take a little time to get his hands back, but we’re excited, he gives us a deeper team.” Hyman’s absence through injury was preceded by two games away on a league suspension, all of it quite frustrating to the third-year full-time Leaf. “A first for everything, right?” he sighed of his recent bad luck. “Definitely a tough stretch, it sucks. But obviously the second half of the year is more important and after that, the (playoffs) is most important. It’s hard watching, but it’s good to be back.” IN DEFENCE OF KADRI The Maple Leafs’ practice on Wednesday ended with an unusual faceoff contest, regular centre Nazem Kadri taking on defenceman Jake Gardiner with the whole team gathering to watch. Babcock hinted Kadri was getting chirped from the backliners about being slow on the draw of late, and Babcock sent in Gardiner, who played centre a bit in high school, to challenge him in about 10 faceoffs. “Naz won out in the end,” noted Babcock, “though the rumour is the coach dropping the pucks (D.J. Smith) is the one who changes the defence and he might have been sliding it on the side of them.” With Hyman back in his usual spot, William Nylander is on the move again, back to third line with Kadri and Patrick Marleau. All three are suffering offensive droughts: Nylander one goal in 14 games, Marleau none in his last six, Kadri blanked in seven. LOOSE LEAFS Winger Trevor Moore has been returned to the Marlies with Hyman back … Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of defenceman Bryan Berard joining the Leafs from the New York Islanders in a trade for Felix Potvin. In a recent chat, Berard was asked if he had followed new Leafs star Auston Matthews’ career. “I’ve never met him,” Berard said, before pointing out “we’re two American kids picked first overall (by Canadian teams in 1995 and 2016), who both wore 34 for the Leafs” … Matthews lent his vocal encouragement to the slumping Nylander, who plays his 200th NHL game Thursday. “It helps when you have guys around you to bring you up. He’s a big part of this team, no matter what anybody says or how he’s playing. He’s a special player. It’s like we’ve been saying all along, it’s not easy to jump in during the middle of a season. You obviously want to see him capitalize on chances like he’s used to. It takes time. but there is no doubt in my mind hell get back to the way he can play” … The next goal by Tavares will be his 300th in the NHL.