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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Sunday, December 26th (All times eastern)

Toronto Maple Leafs (12-17-4) at New Jersey Devils (9-23-2), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - If the firing of head coach John MacLean was supposed to spark the floundering New Jersey Devils, it certainly didn't happen on Thursday night.

The Devils will try to bounce back in their second game since the coaching change as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Prudential Center.

MacLean was relieved of his coaching duties Thursday morning and hours later Jacques Lemaire was back on the New Jersey bench as the team's interim head coach. Lemaire's third tour of duty with the Devils did not start on a good note, however, as Jersey was slammed, 5-1, by the visiting New York Islanders.

The Devils went 9-22-2 under MacLean, a rookie head coach who ironically replaced Lemaire after the latter man had announced his retirement in April after a one-year return to New Jersey. Lemaire's first tenure as Devils coach came from 1993-94 through 1997-98 and featured the first of the franchise's three Stanley Cup championships.

But, if Lemaire's task is to get New Jersey back to the playoffs for a 14th consecutive season, he has an uphill battle ahead of him. After Thursday's loss, the Devils, who have just 20 points through 34 games, fell two points behind the Islanders for last place in the NHL.

Travis Zajac scored the lone goal for New Jersey, which has been outscored 20-4 in losing their last four games. The Devils also have a dismal 1-9-0 record in December.

"When you struggle like we struggle, you don't turn this around in a couple shifts. It's going to take a little time," Lemaire said.

Martin Brodeur was beaten five times on just 14 shots. Brodeur played in his 1,100th career game, extending his own NHL record. The 38-year-old backstop has 45 career starts against Toronto and is 19-16-2 with seven ties and a 2.51 GAA in those tilts.

The Devils are playing the second test of a four-game homestand tonight, but they have lost four of five at the Rock and are just 5-9-2 overall as the host this season.

Toronto, meanwhile, has just four wins all year on the road, posting a sad 4-10-1 record away from Air Canada Centre.

The Maple Leafs, who are 13th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference with 28 points, have lost three in a row and have been outscored 15-6 during that stretch. Toronto's latest setback was a 6-3 home loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday.

Mikhail Grabovski had a goal and an assist for Toronto, which has also lost five of its last seven games. John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin each netted goals, while Tomas Kaberle had two helpers in the loss.

"We never quit and had an incredible number of scoring chances," said Toronto head coach Ron Wilson. "Our problem was that our first shift for every line and every pair of defense was a disaster and we wound up down early."

Jonas Gustavsson gave up five goals on 18 shots and was benched in favor of James Reimer, who finished the game with four saves. The 22-year-old Reimer has still yet to make his first NHL start.

Gustavsson will likely get tonight's start for Toronto after he made 29 saves to help the Leafs post a 3-1 home win over the Devils on Nov. 18. The second- year Swede is 1-1-0 with a 3.17 GAA in three career games against New Jersey.

Toronto has taken three of four, four of six and six of its last nine encounters with the Devils overall, but the Maple Leafs have dropped two straight and four of their last six in New Jersey.

12/26 10:30:19 ET

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