Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3 to the Philadelphia Flyers was hard to watch for a supporter of the New Jersey Devils. I feel the recap, in retrospect, did a good job summarizing why that was. In addition to making Game 4 a must-win for the Devils, I feel one certain players need to be called out for their performances - or lack thereof - in Game 3.
Today, the Devils held an optional practice and so the players and Jacques Lemaire had a conference call with the media. Presumably, the day was spent reviewing what went wrong in Game 3 and a meeting was had. I'm not bothered by that, I'm not sure what a full practice would have accomplished. Given how the Devils went into the third period tied 2-2 in Game 3 and played like garbage outside of Martin Brodeur, I can't help but think the root problems are more mental than practical.
This leads me to the target: Jamie Langenbrunner. Where's the results? Where's the leadership? Where's the passion? And what's with the repeating of quotes?
You could make a case that his 5 shots on net and assist on Ilya Kovalchuk's game-icing means he's done something in the playoffs so far. I'll be generous and grant that, but what exactly has he done so far in this series? I don't subscribe to the theory that the team captain has to be their best skater, but he's got to be effective in some way. Jamie Langenbrunner has been a non-factor for much of April, much less the first round of the playoffs.
|Reg. Season 2009 - Jamie Langenbrunner||81||19||42||61||6||44||6||2||4||0||228||8.3|
|April 2009 - Jamie Langenbrunner||8||1||1||2||2||0||1||0||1||0||21||4.7|
At least he hasn't taken any penalties. While I know he hasn't been next to Zach Parise and Travis Zajac for this time period, he hasn't been for most of the season as Lemaire has shuffled him around like most other forwards. He's been playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias in addition to Parise and Zajac. Not exactly bad company to be around. So it's really striking that his April production has been an empty net power play goal gifted by Lindy Ruff on the final game of the season and an assist to Kovalchuk's empty net goal in Game 2.
We're at the point of the year where results matter and he doesn't have them. Among the top 6 forwards on the Devils in the postseason so far. Langenbrunner has been the least visible and least threatening of them all. He's not cycling high for a long shot. He's not notably winning board battles. He's not making important backchecking stops. He's not hustling regardless of who's to his left on the wing and at center. He's just...there. That's not good enough. Even when Ilya Kovalchuk has a poor game, he manages to do something - like two power play assists despite not registering a shot on net (the assists don't excuse the lack of shots, but this is about Langenbrunner).
Let's discuss the captaincy for a moment. I don't pretend to know what's going on behind-the-scenes. But if a team ties up a game on the road after the second period and they can't get up emotionally for the third period - I can't help but think there's something wrong with the leadership That problem is compounded if the goaltender nearly single-handedly carries the team into overtime and they still aren't motivated. Granted, it seemed nobody spoke up in the locker room at either intermission; but given that Langenbrunner has the "C," you'd think it'd be him of all people. Especially on a team filled with veterans and has experience on the coaching staff - including Scott Stevens of all people.
As an aside, I don't subscribe to the mythos that Stevens is the be-all, end-all solution for this particular team. For starters, he's not coming out on the ice no matter how much you pray; so let's forget about that. A simple stare from him isn't going to get the job done. I love Stevens. I think he was absolutely brilliant as a defenseman and as a captain. A Devils legend to a "T." But he's not a magic spell or some wise Yoda-like sage who will suddenly flip the mental switch within this team. Still, he could certainly give Langenbrunner a pointer or two because whatever Jamie's doing hasn't had any noticeable effects on the ice yet. Langenbrunner doesn't have to be like Stevens, and I don't want him to be like Stevens. I want him to make a statement. On the ice, most of all, but at least in the locker room firing up his teammates. So far, we haven't seen either.
Then there's his quotes to the media. The things he publicly says in preparation for questions he knows he's going to be asked. Given how Game 3 went, he was asked about what the Devils need to do for Game 4 today. According to this post by Tom Gulitti, Langenbrunner says the team has to play with more desperation. Here's the quote:
"I think we need to be a little more desperate in our play," Langenbrunner said. "We’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win. We’re playing cautious and we’re worried about making mistakes instead of just going out and playing the game and if we do things we need to win those mistakes will be covered up."
Understandable to a point, given what I saw in Game 3. If desparation is what it will take, fine. But Devils fans should have a feeling of deja vu. Langenbrunner emphasized desperation on Friday before Game 2. As reported by Gulitti:
"I think we’ve got to go with that mentality," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Definitely, we have to do certain things that allow you to win. You can’t always control that. But we have to put (their best) game out there. We played a pretty cautious game in Game 1. We played extremely well defensively. We limited their chances, but we weren’t as desperate as we needed to be to win hockey games in the playoffs. We need to bring that effort (tonight)."
I understand the Devils went out and won Game 2 that night. So why in the world didn't the message carry over into Game 3? Where was the emphasis on continuing to play desperate hockey if it worked so well? How come it took until after losing in OT that you go back to this theme? I can't help but think that something else was said, which is understandable; but seriously, Jamie, what will it be if (please don't make me say when) the Devils falter again? More desparation? Excessive desparation? Help me out here.
Many other Devils can be criticized for their Game 3 performances. Like David Clarkson taking a cheap call in overtime - after 60 minutes of the refs calling a tight game, you'd think he'd know that cheap calls are still calls. Like Zach Parise/Ilya Kovalchuk doing very little offensively when not being matched with Chris Pronger per this Rich Chere article (it's a bit confusing, but both left wingers didn't do well). Like Mark Fraser not just flinging that puck anywhere but where he kept it allowing Simon Gagne, a player with a history of concussions, to wreck him for a turnover. And so forth.
But in my mind, it's time for the team captain to step up most of all. You were given the "C" by Brent Sutter back in 2007-08 and have maintained it ever since. You were named captain of the USA hockey team for the 2010 Olympics, so it's not as if only the Devils organization thought you had any leadership skills. Yet, it's all about now because the future's starting to look bleak for this year's campaign.
Just to remind you one more time, Jamie Langenbrunner, the Devils are about to play a crucial playoff hockey game in Philadelphia. Consider showing up for Game 4 and leading for change.