Well it has been a painful 19 games so far this season for the Devils’ faithful. Off to their worst start in team history with a measly 12 points, the 2010-11 Devils have been dreadful. Their supposedly high-powered offense, with $100M Dollar Man, Ilya Kovalchuk, has managed a league low 34 goals (only the Islanders with 39 have less than 40!). The Devils have won exactly one home game so far and they have lost Zach Parise for 3-4 months with a knee injury as well as numerous other starters have been or are out to a variety of injuries. They have played with 3 and 4 rookie defenseman at times and defensive acquisitions, Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov have been dreadful for the most part. Rookie head coach, John MacLean has been unable to muster any meaningful strategy to right the ship. In fact he has looked clueless at times. When Devils’ all-time leading scorer and assistant captain Patrik Elias suggested a different playing strategy a few days ago, many started to wonder whether the coach has lost his team already. And the news gets worse today. Just this afternoon (Fri 11/19) the Devils recalled minor league goalie, Mike McKenna, since it appears Martin Brodeur re-injured his bruised elbow last night in a 3-1 loss to the equally dreadful Toronto Maple Leafs. With games against the Blues and the Capitals in the next 3 days, it is clear Devils’ supreme commander, Lou Lamoriello, is going to be forced to do something with losses in those tough games. He knows this mess is his doing and Lou has shown a willingness to pull the trigger on anything at anytime. With former Stanley Cup winning assistant coach, Larry Robinson looking over MacLean’s shoulder from the bench, the heat is on MacLean.
It would be easy for me to suggest to fire MacLean at this point and in fact I do think he has not done a very good job. However, let me suggest how I think MacLean can start to right the ship and save his job. Last night’s loss to Toronto was very typical of how the Devils are playing and why they are losing: They give up an early goal, they play dreadfully on defense in their own zone, they press on offense leading to more turnovers and the puck ends up in their own net again. You can’t win in the NHL finding yourself down 2-0 halfway through games. MacLean has to realize that this team is very weak defensively, especially when they play with 3 rookies on defense and they need to protect those players. Last night the second and back-breaking Toronto goal was scored when rookie defenseman Oliver Magnan was on the wrong side of the ice and left Toronto star forward, Phil Kessel, all alone in front of the Devils net. Devils’ veteran forward, Jason Arnott also made a defensive mistake on that same play by not realizing Magnan was out of position and also leaving Kessel unguarded. This has been typical of the Devils’ defensive play all year.
If the Devils are to right themselves, they need to start realizing they need to protect their weaknesses (not try to out-score opponents) and start playing sound defensive hockey. When you have rookie defenseman on the ice, the forwards need to play better in the defensive zone. The Devils, dare I say, need to take a careful look at former coach Jacques Lemaire’s playbook and start trying to win by playing defense first and counter-attacking when the OTHER TEAM MAKES A MISTAKE. They clearly have talented offensive players which can score on the counter-attack. MacLean needs to change his strategy to get his defense sound and build from there. If he doesn’t do it now, he’s gone and maybe we will see more than the return of Jacques Lemaire’s hockey style. We may see Jacques himself behind the bench in a few days.