Tonight’s matchup between the New Jersey Devils (8-16-2) and Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-2) looks lopsided on paper.
The Atlantic Division rivals are trending in opposite directions. Pittsburgh went 9-0-1 in their last ten games, collecting 19 of a possible 20 points. The Devils, meanwhile, dropped two straight and three of their last four games. While Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury are hot, Ilya Kovalchuk remains ice cold.
Widespread speculation also follows the Devils. Several media outlets debated whether rookie coach John MacLean should get the axe, and whispers of discontent among fans have grown to shouts. Each inconsistent performance brings another round of speculation on MacLean’s job security. The Devils’ coach addressed the situation during’s Sunday’s practice.
“I can’t let any of that stuff enter into my mind,” MacLean told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “That stuff is out here (holding his right hand out away from him). No control over that. I have control over coming to the rink every day, running practice, the games and making the decisions to try and help us win.”
In order to win tonight, the Devils will need a consistent effort throughout their lineup. Captain Jamie Langebrunner acknowledged the need for the team to play their best.
“When you face a team like that, you have to be at your best or they embarrass you,” Langenbrunner said to Gulitti. “I think if we go in with any mindset other than that, it will get ugly.”
“They’re probably the hottest team in the league and we’re going to have to be on our toes and ready to go,” MacLean said. “A little fear sometimes is good going against an opponent like that. We’re going to have to be ready.”
The Devils seemed ready for the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon, but inconsistency cost them in a 5-3 loss.
The loss, another blow to the Devils, left them searching for answers. The team is 29th out of 30 NHL teams, and sports the worst goal differential (-30). Coming into tonight’s game, the Devils sit 13 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With their inconsistent performances, the Devils have dug themselves a deep hole. They’ve shown flashes of their potential, but they haven’t consistently put their best effort on the ice.
Despite a growing list of negatives and speculation, Devils players believe a win tonight could help turn the season around.
“It’s a great challenge,” Johan Hedberg told Gulitti. “They’re a good team. Crosby obviously is one of the elite players in the world. But we’re going to have to start somewhere. We might as well start tomorrow. We beat a good team like that on the road, we might turn our season around and that’s the way we need to approach it. “