Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils fired John MacLean and named Jacques Lemaire the interim head coach. While everyone was buzzing about the move, there was a game to be played tonight against the New York Islanders. The announcement of Lemaire after the announcement of the Devils' starting lineup got a big cheer at the Rock. Then the game started and by the end of the first period, the only people weren't booing were Islander fans or Devils fans still at shock at a 3-0 deficit.
As has been the Devils' tendency this season, the Devils began to pound Dwayne Roloson with a lot of shots in the second and third periods. The Islanders stepped back, but they managed to tack on a fourth goal in the second and a fifth goal in the third. The Devils didn't get shutout but Roloson was more than up to the task with the 29 shots he faced in those periods and 35 overall. The game ended at 5-1 in favor of the Islanders, which extended the Devils' losing streak to 4 games, made their last 3 games blowout losses (7-1, 5-1, and 5-1), and placed the Devils definitively in 30th place in the NHL.
If this was the team's idea of a gift, a lump of coal would have been more appreciated.
After the jump, I have the highlights video from NHL.com and more thoughts about tonight's game. Including some lessons to be learned from tonight's game. For the Islanders side, Dominik has this recap up at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Corsi charts are incredibly misleading. Yes, everyone on the Devils except for Matthew Corrente was positive. However, the Islanders truly took their foot off the gas pedal after the first period. As a result, the Devils out-shot the Isles at a whopping 28 to 12 at even strength. Going back to overall shots, they out-shot the Isles 17-3 in the second and 12-3 in the third. It's clear that one team was dominant at getting the puck forward tonight, it just so happened for 40 minutes by the team that was down 3-0 to start it all. In a small way, that makes this blow out different in that the Devils kept attacking even though it was clear the game was out of doubt. Then again, it's nothing to celebrate since they weren't anything like this in the first period.
The first period was abysmal, to say the least. Your "highlights" featured Jamie Langenbrunner springing Josh Bailey for an in-zone breakaway on Martin Brodeur; Henrik Tallinder unable to prevent Bailey to pot a rebound on a power play; and Dainius Zubrus not keeping up with John Tavares so the Isle got to a rebound. Guess what, the Isles scored on each of those three chances. I'm not going to say Martin Brodeur had a great night, but he got hung out to dry thrice in the first 20 minutes. Just like the Washington game, only the Islanders stopped attacking regularly after the first period and the Devils, well, decided to attack.
If Lemaire wants to make an instant impact on this team, then he needs to smack the players upside their collective ahead and demand better fundamentals on defense. It's not a system or a talent issue; they just need to stop turning it over, keep up with their assignments, and cover guys properly. I don't see how that's too outrageous of a demand or expectation. It's not nearly as absurd as expecting Brodeur or Johan Hedberg or whoever to bail them out over and over when they blow it. Tonight was yet another infuriating example where the first 4 of the 5 goals allowed could have been prevented by the skaters. MacLean and Larry Robinson couldn't figure how to stop it; hopefully Lemaire and Robinson can do so going forward.
I didn't even mention the offense from the first period. It came late. The first shot on net came at 10:25 into the game, a close range shot by Andy Greene. At that time of the game, the Devils were already down 2 goals. So it's bad enough that took over 10 minutes to get a shot on net, but they had to be allow 2 first (thanks Captain and Tallinder). Sure, the Devils would go on to put many, many more shots on Roloson, but that's just terrible.
Needless to say, Lemaire's arrival alone did not spark the team. It'd be cute and oh so ridiculous to claim that Lemaire can't turn it around because of this game alone. He's had no practices to work with, he went into tonight's game cold, and he was without 12 forwards. Gulitti reported during the game Mattias Tedenby was out with food poisoning. Hopefully he feels better soon. That's why Lemaire slotted Corrente as a forward tonight, where he did all of nothing. He was one of the three Devils skaters with no shots on goal tonight and managed an even 0 in Corsi when the team was +32. You'd think that players like Corrente, who could be sent down to Albany quickly, would want to put in an extra effort to impress the interim coach.
In fact, you'd think that some players would want to impress Lemaire - and by extension, Lou - enough so they can remain in New Jersey. Alas it wasn't to be tonight.
In retrospect, perhaps it's no surprise there was no spark. The team made the change this morning, the team's last practice was with MacLean so perhaps their plan was set, and some of the players played like they just weren't happy. Sure, Langenbrunner put up 2 shots on net and was a +14 in Corsi; but the confirmation bias-addled eyes of mine saw a captain who wasn't much of one. Setting up the other team for a the first goal against less than 4 minutes into the game does color the mind. So does knowing that he had problems with Lemaire before. You know, Jamie, if you’re not happy that Lemaire is the boss, then fine. Can you at least stop showcasing your displeasure on the ice and play with some level of competence? Like, receive and give passes more accurately? Putting more than just 2 of your 7 shooting attempts on net? Not making brutal giveaways? Please?
Langenbrunner wasn't the only bad Devil tonight. Anssi Salmela looked out of sorts and tentative. Sure, he put up 4 shots on net and has a lovely Corsi like most of the team tonight, but he was shaky in his own end, was easily knocked off the puck, and forced Anton Volchenkov to cover for him numerous times. I think Salmela will be OK eventually, but a trip to Albany wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him to do.
The fourth line was rather pointless tonight. Adam Mair and Tim Sestito registered no shots on net, it was all Rod Pelley with 3. Sure, they threw some hits and Mair had a really pointless fight with Zenon Konopka early in the gane; but the fourth line didn't accomplish much going forward or in their own end. Sestito had a +11 Corsi, somehow. I guess from being switched up some of the lines amid the Devils' blitzing attacks in the second and third periods. Yet, it's pretty impressive to have that high of a Corsi without putting a shot on net.
Kovalchuk didn't have a really great night. There were some times he went into "I guess I have to do it all myself mode" but his shooting wasn't really on target. I noticed he was out there for nearly all 8 minutes of the Devils PP time tonight, hopefully that doesn't become a trend. Kovalchuk did impress me in one instance. Travis Zajac gets stripped of the puck at the point by - who else - Josh Bailey, who has a shorthanded breakaway. Kovalchuk comes from the other point all the way down to catch Bailey and impedes him enough to force a weak shot. It was some impressive backchecking and Brodeur stopped Bailey. Unfortunately, the goalie gets bumped by him (result of Kovalchuk's force, so not really interference), the puck is lying short, and Frans Nielsen gets to it first for an easy put-back to make it 4-1 at the time. Can't fault Kovalchuk for rushing back, though I can blame Zajac and the other Devils for not rushing back on that play. Still, Kovalchuk could have had a better night and perhaps he would away from Rolston and Arnott.
But at least Zajac scored a goal; a rebound goal at that. Among the small and ultimately hollow victories tonight (e.g. not getting shutout), the Devils did get penetration in the second and third periods to get close shots, set up screens, and forced Roloson to play big. He did. Of course, having a lead ranging from 2 to 4 goals makes it easy for any goaltender to be confident. The ESPN Gamecast shot chart shows plenty of red X's right in front. In general, the deluge of shots was more than just the total of 35, as the Isles blocked 13 and the Devils missed the net 15 times. It felt like more than that at times, but Roloson had to be prepared for at least 63 attempts. That's especially exhausting given that he faced a lot of pucks last night.
After Bailey, I'd say Roloson was the second best Islander tonight and he had to be. If the Devils managed to make the game close in the second period, then who knows how the Islanders would have responded. Lightening up on a game with a 3 goal lead is understandable, but dangerous. But that's just it: an if-statement since the Devils continue to be a terribly unlucky and poor shooting team playing against defense who don't giftwrap chances for them by making fundamental mistakes. Any goalie would look like an all-star, which should surprise absolutely no Devils fans by now.
Speaking of errors, the only goal the Isles didn't get off an error by New Jersey was the fifth one by Blake Comeau. Like Carlson's goal from Wednesday, I can't really get mad about it. Just a perfectly placed shot. It only seems worse since A) it was the fifth goal against and B) it was one of only 14 shots on net tonight. You can see for it yourself in the highlight video from NHL.com:
Ultimately, this was truly the rock bottom game, even if it wasn't a shutout loss. The Isles beat on a hapless Devils team in the first period and cruised to a win by adding a shorthanded goal in the second period and a lovely shot against the run of play in the third period. The PK had one power play to defend and Bailey scored; the power play had 4 opportunities, scored on none of them, and allowed a goal. 5-on-5 was only in New Jersey's favor when the Isles had a big lead. Said big lead was largely in part of the Devils playing like morons and doing moron things in the first period. A performance truly worthy of the 30th best team in the NHL, despite making many attempts to score later in the game and actually implementing a forecheck of sorts.
Jacques Lemaire at least has the right attitude. In his post-game press conference, Gulitti reported this quote from the interim head coach:
Right now, Lemaire is thinking in small steps. When asked if making the playoffs is possible, he replied, "Let’s start by winning a game first. Winning a game is possible."
Can't go nowhere to go but up. There's that, I suppose.
That's my whole take on the game. What's yours? Did you see any silver linings from this game? Or was it all bad from your perspective? Do you agree that this game is truly rock bottom, or do you think it can get worse? Please leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments. Thank you to those who commented in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading. Please enjoy the holiday.