I have never been a fan of any other organization in the NHL. I have always followed, rooted for and lived passionately through the Devils and since they have built themselves to the perennial playoff team, it was been a rewarding organization to root for. However, what I have witnessed this season is not just a slow start, it is an incredibly discouraging sign of a team with absolutely no chemistry. The players are playing for themselves. Say what you want, but that's my view.
I arrive early to the Prudential Center this evening knowing that Johan Hedberg would be in goal. That's fine, although it would have been wise to rest him earlier this season...and on the road. With that said, the reality of sitting Brodeur meant that Hedberg may have had to face Vezina winner Ryan Miller. I am a fan of Hedberg, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that this creates a mismatch. The Devils risked an 0-4-1 home start heading on a 6-game road trip that may paint a clearer picture as to how this season will unfold. Then the buzz in the arena shifted to a $100 Million superstar. Ilya Kovalchuk skated with the team this morning, but was suddenly missing from warm-ups. Alexander Vasyunov was given a chance to play in the NHL, which is fine, but resting Kovalchuk and Brodeur with Anton Volchenkov still out is a head scratcher.
The bottom line is the Devils desperately needed a home win against a struggling Sabres team, and MacLean decided to rest two major pieces of the team. Even still, the Devils are a talented team with Parise, Zajac, Elias, Langenbrunner and an established backup goaltender in Hedberg. The problem is, the Devils' defense was COMPLETELY exposed on this night. Martin Brodeur essentially stood on his head in Montreal and the Devils, thanks to a decent effort, were able to win 3-0. All of the flaws of the Devils' blue line were blatant. Henrik Tallinder had a miserable night, Matt Corrente made crucial mistakes, and honestly, Andy Greene wasn't able to step up either. The Devils truly did hang Hedberg out to dry. To make matters even worse, MacLean decides to cut Brodeur's rest short and bring him into an already lopsided 4-0 game. Brodeur would allow two more goals on excellent forechecking plays by Buffalo, which also means poor defensive play by New Jersey.
The result of this is an 0-4-1 start for the Devils at home, a Kovalchuk controversyand an un-rested Brodeur heading into Manhattan tomorrow night. The Devils suddenly have no confidence in their backup goaltender, and it does not appear that Brodeur will get any consistent rest this season.
My main concern is why did MacLean bench Kovalchuk tonight? Kovalchuk has two goals and three assists, which is more points than most Devils. He's not off to a Stamkos-esque start, but at the same time he been nothing but positive to the organization so far. You could read into this and speculate a growing problem in the Devils' locker room. At the end of the day, there is no logical answer to the Kovalchuk situation. I can't imagine Lou Lamoriello being too pleased with MacLean's decisions. Fans come to see Brodeur and Kovalchuk (among reasons...), and we were denied the two of them in a game the Devils really needed.
Right now, the Devils' on ice product is alarmingly below expectations. They are playing very poor hockey. It is not luck. The Devils' defense is a disaster right now. Offensively, there is no sustained pressure, no signs of a Stanley Cup contender. Is it early in the season? Absolutely. Is it truly disturbing that the Devils are winless at home and 2-5-1 overall? Absolutely. It appears more and more every day that the Devils are not off to a slow start, but maybe the new "system" is not clicking. The team cannot afford to sit back and wait to see what happens. There needs to be a significant motivator. John MacLean isn't gaining any fans right now, and maybe he doesn't care, but the team is struggling on ice. MacLean's job is NOT in jeopardy, however. Lamoriello has nurtured MacLean for close to a decade now, and he isn't about to walk him out the door. The Devils ARE a very talented group of players, but they are not a good TEAM right now. That's simply all that matters.
I am sick of "sugar-coding" this team. Every night there is a small positive to take out of these losses, but enough is enough. The Devils need a massive spark. Maybe the quiet Langenbrunner needs to call a players-only meeting. Maybe MacLean needs to throw a fit. Maybe it will take a Lamoriello pep-talk, a dynamic offensive night or something else. It does not take a lucky bounce here and there, the team deserves the record they currently hold, and they need to play dramatically better. The power play needs to be better, the defense needs to be better and the team has to trust Hedberg to give Martin Brodeuradequate rest. The penalty kill is solid, which is agreed, but there are serious issues with this hockey team.
The Devils were embarrassing tonight, and they have less than 24 hours to put up a respectable performance at Madison Square Garden Sunday night. Is this team ready to step up? This team is going to turn it around at some point, but it IS time to express frustration. This is not a slow start, this is growing problem. This is a combination of a lot things gone wrong in this young season, and it has to stop...now.
One last rant: Lou Lamoriello and MacLean need to let people know what is going on. "Status Quo" has worn off, it is ineffective, and it raises eyebrows. Fans need answers, media needs answers, and actually, the organization needs answers.