Maple Leafs shine harsh light on Devils’ struggles

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As part of the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies, Martin Brodeur was on hand to see the New Jersey Devils get dominated in a way he didn’t have to experience all that often during his vaunted, record-breaking career.

The Toronto Maple Leafs dominated much of the play on Friday, ultimately stomping the Devils to the tune of a 6-1 win, giving Mike Babcock’s Buds three consecutive victories.

The Devils frequently struggled when it came to limiting the Maple Leafs’ attack, which was deadly even as Auston Matthews remains on the shelf. John Tavares got on the board, but it was really a team effort for Toronto.

The Devils came roaring into 2018-19 with a four-game winning streak, prompting optimism that maybe last season was the start of something special, rather than an example of a team playing over its head.

On Friday, Keith Kinkaid and the Devils were instead in over their heads:

It’s the sort of night that got people trolling Kinkaid for his fabulous knack for post-game emoji analysis:

Things haven’t exactly been going swimmingly for the Devils in recent weeks. New Jersey fell 7-3 to the Senators on Tuesday, so they’ve really been springing leaks defensively. After a heartening 4-0-0 start, the Devils have lost eight of their last 10 games, watching their overall record tumble to 6-7-1.

Beginning the season on such a strong note should reduce the urge to panic, especially New Jersey’s Metropolitan Division rivals aren’t exactly throwing together hot streaks, either.

It’s not the largest sample size, yet with all those caveats, you wonder if Devils head coach John Hynes might be wise to make some tweaks. As this breakdown from About the Jersey points out, Taylor Hall has been struggling a bit at even-strength early on, adding credence to concerns that the reigning Hart Trophy winner might not be able to carry the Devils to the same lofty heights as last season.

(Going on that run felt quite a bit like a tightrope walk, as Hall truly willed a flaw [but often fun] Devils team to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

Granted, it’s not necessarily the end of the world if the Devils really hit the wall this season.

Instead of overreacting to the Devils overachieving last season by making a bunch of risky, possibly recklessly expensive additions in free agency, GM Ray Shero instead mostly stood pat. He probably could have brought Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner back, but instead showed discipline.

(As much as Hall could use more help, do note that the St. Louis Blues made Maroon a healthy scratch on Friday.)

Kinkaid has been a pleasant surprise in net extending back to last season, yet it’s unlikely that he’s the type of goalie who can steal wins all year long. And, again, as fantastic as Hall usually is, he can only do so much.

There are still reasons to be positive about the Devils’ potential to build a contender around Hall. This stretch merely argues that there also may be some growing pains before they can make the leap from a hit-or-miss squad to a more lasting contender, something they haven’t been since Brodeur hung up his pads.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.