Who the Devil are they?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

They're the Devils in disguise.

That's what the Maple Leafs must be thinking as they meet their old foes from New Jersey tonight for the first time in almost two calendar years.

The Devils have since gone through two coaches (Pat Burns to Larry Robinson to emergency replacement Lou Lamoriello), while the Great Scotts -- Niedermayer and Stevens -- are gone from the defence. Martin Brodeur's record is a spotty 13-12-3 and his save percentage has been hovering around .900.

The Devils are on pace to allow more goals in one season since their pre-Stanley Cup teams of the early 1990s and two of their three top scorers are 5-foot-7 (Brian Gionta) and 5- foot-11 (Scott Gomez), unusually small for a team that historically has been big and mean.

Patrik Elias, normally good for 30 to 40 goals, is trying to battle back from hepatitis and defenceman Vladimir Malakhov is off the roster and contemplating retirement.

But the strangest sight of all is to see the Devils 10th overall in the Eastern Conference and out of playoff position approaching the New Year, though a win tonight at the Air Canada Centre would reel them in to within two points of seventh-ranked Toronto.

But Leafs such as Alexei Ponikarovsky aren't fooled by the outward signs of trouble in the Meadowlands.

"It's a typical team, as they were before," he said. "They have good goaltending and they're good defensively. We have to establish our forecheck and do what we've been doing."

One familiar face will be Alexander Mogilny, who is back in his second stint as a Devil after three years in Toronto. The Leafs didn't relish the idea of parting with a winger who had 109 points in his past 110 regular season games, and Mogilny liked living here. But his salary was bound to put a strain on the new salary cap and there was the question of his health after hip surgery.

When no concrete offer was made by the Leafs, New Jersey boss Lamoriello surprised many by giving him $7 million US for two years.

After a slow start, Mogilny has 25 points in 30 games.

"It (returning to Toronto) wasn't really a consideration," Mogilny told the Bergen Record on Friday night. "(Tonight) is just another game. It's going to be a tough game for us."

Toronto coach Pat Quinn has not lost his admiration for Mogilny, who also played for him in Vancouver.

"I've not been watching him this year, but I'm still a big fan of him as a player and as a team person," he said.

Robinson stepped down the week before Christmas, citing stress, including "pounding headaches" as the Devils lost six of their first seven games in December. Under the 63-year-old Lamoriello, they are 1-2.

The game should pit Brodeur in net against Ed Belfour of the Leafs. While Belfour has passed Terry Sawchuk for second place on the NHL's win list and now has 449, most people figure that the younger Brodeur (416 wins) has the better chance at eventually catching Patrick Roy's record of 551.

With no ice show scheduled at the ACC this year, the Leafs finally get to play a Boxing Day game at home, though they fly to Pittsburgh to meet Sidney Crosby and the Penguins tomorrow night.


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