While there are several factors Devils players and coaches cite for the team’s 2-6-1 start, one theme looms larger than others: team chemistry.
With the Devils beginning a five-game Western Conference road trip tonight against the San Jose Sharks, the team stressed the importance of developing off-ice chemistry to better the on-ice product.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing for us,” captain Jamie Langenbrunner told the Devils website. “We’ll be able to spend some time together, do a few dinners and get ourselves going all in the same direction. That’s going to be important because it’s not going to get any easier for us to dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve put ourselves in.”
Goalie Martin Brodeur believes the trip will help the players begin to play for each other.
“We don’t know much about each other,” Brodeur said to Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger. “On the road trips (during which) we spent a little time together, we won both games. The Washington (trip) we didn’t spend any time, so this will help us build chemistry and to play for one another.
“Not winning isn’t fun, but guys are getting along and I think this road trip hopefully will help us bond and get that little extra you need to build a team.”
The Devils need for their chemistry to click, and click soon. They hold the lowest percentage of points to games played this season, and sit in dead last in the Eastern Conference. They’ve scored the fewest goals in the NHL, and their defensive play is questionable at best. The second period also dooms the Devils, as teams are outscoring them, 17-4, in the middle period.
Those problems continued to plague the Devils in their last game, a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. Brodeur kept the Devils afloat in the first period, stopping 17 shots to keep the game scoreless. The Devils, badly outplayed through two periods, came to life in the final period. New Jersey fired 12 shots on net and put pressure on the Rangers defense. Ilya Kovalchuk converted off a feed from Dainius Zubrus at 14:08 of the period to cut the lead to 2-1. Henrik Lundqvist would deny the Devils the rest of the way, and Brandon Dubinsky sealed the victory with an empty-net goal at 19:59 for the 3-1 win.
The Sharks host the Devils at HP Pavilion still searching for their first home win of the season. San Jose lost to the Calgary Flames, 4-0, Sunday night in Calgary. Starting goalie Antti Niemi allowed three goals on five shots, putting the Sharks in an early hole. Antero Niittymaki stopped 24 shots in relief.
The Devils remain loose while understanding the importance of getting back on track. Brodeur confiscated a small elephant figurine from David Clarkson’s bag today, and hung it on the crossbar during practice.
It’s that loose play that can develop chemistry and turn the team around. But if the players can’t develop the chemistry they seek and continue to struggle, they’ll need to worry about more than chemistry.