Devils in the Doldrums

It’s not easy coaching a team that has given up.

“They never got into [the game],” coach John MacLean said of the loss. “When you play against a hockey club like Montreal, they [will] embarrass you.

“I was trying everything to get something going,” he said. “I could have benched nine guys, but I can’t. You have to try and see if something will come of it.”

But there’s something to be said of what the Canadiens thought of the team that they faced on Thursday night. This wasn’t the team they were accustomed to losing to in the past.

“It was definitely weird out there,” Habs goalie Carey Price said of the Devils. “It was pretty bad out there. There’s no energy in the building. It was pretty weird.”

“It’s tough,” Brian Gionta said of the Devils. “They got behind real early. Obviously the building was a little dead too. You can feel for them. We’ve been in that situation where nothing is going right. It’s tough to get things going. The momentum is not there.

“They’re trying to figure out a way to turn things around there. They will. They’ve got a great organization and a great team. Eventually it will pay off.”

What was left to question after the game by the Canadiens was whether Martin Brodeur’s absence was one of the many problems the Devils faced on Thursday night. Historically, the Canadiens had difficulties beating the Devils. But now they’re asking if they really had difficulties beating Brodeur.

“He’s a hard working guy,” Price said of Brodeur. “He’s definitely a big piece to their puzzle. [He’s] been their bread and butter for a long time, which is hard work, and creating chances from good defense.”

The Devils started off very poorly and the former Devils of Gionta and Scott Gomez took advantage of the situation. For Gionta, it took him only 11 seconds to score the first Canadiens goal.

“It’s tough to see that right away,” Gionta’s younger brother, Stephen, said.

If that wasn’t humiliating enough for the Devils, Lars Eller tallied another goal at 1:38. That was two goals in less than two minutes of regulation against Johan Hedberg. MacLean pulled Hedberg immediately following that second goal.  It could be the first time a goalie was pulled from a game so quickly.

After the game, Hedberg was at a loss for words to explain what happened in the first 1:38 of the game. He was literally speechless.

“I try not to worry about things that I cannot control,” Hedberg said. “The only thing I can control is to play as well as I can out there…to stop the puck. If I don’t do that, like I didn’t do…I don’t like that position.”

It only took half of the game for the Canadiens to completely humiliate the Devils. In the middle period, Tom Pyatt scored at 2:30, followed by Gomez at 8:37, and Benoit Pouliot at 9:57. Montreal scored five goals in 29:57.  The Devils scored none.

It took the Devils leading goal scorer, Jason Arnott, to salvage at least one goal for the team when he sent one in off of a pass from Patrik Elias at 8:18 in the final period. The game ended with the final score of 5-1.

It could have been worse. There were other teams in the NHL that took a worse beating on Thursday night than the Devils did.

The thing about this game that was so different than the other games so far this season is that this team appears to have given up. There’s no spark. There’s no momentum. As the Canadiens described it…it was dead.

Many are starting to point to the early exits from the playoffs the team has suffered in the past as reasons for this season’s demise. Even the Forbes valuation report of the Devils has listed this as a reason why revenue has fallen in Newark.

Some would like to scapegoat Ilya Kovalchuk for the Devils failures. He just got here, so that doesn’t make sense. Others point to the coach. That is the easiest scapegoat anyone can come up with on any given day.

Truth is…those nine players he could have benched are half of the New Jersey Devils squad. Each player made grave mistakes. You are left to ask, “What are they doing?”

Each individual has their own special talent which has been in complete disarray as of late and no one is tapping into those individual talents. Instead, they are out on the ice playing very strange roles outside of their jurisdiction. It’s even apparent when you see two defensemen and a forward standing there looking at the puck and not doing anything while the game is in play. You ask, “What are you waiting for?  Get the puck!” But then by the time they wake up, it’s too late.

You have others that are passed the puck and have no idea that the puck was passed to them (this happened on numerous occasions by various Devils players). There are forwards that we pay to score goals that are attempting to play a physical game where they deliver hits on guys like Hal Gill.  Once again, that type of play is outside of their jurisdiction.

There are individual players that need to focus on making their individual game a better game. One player, for instance, has a hard time accepting passes. He misses them about 90% of the time. Why have they not worked on helping his game?

What happened to the physical presence of the Devils? What happened to the defense? For a team that touts as being a defensive team, I find it odd that not one single defenseman (or goaltender) has made the NHL All-Star ballot. Then again, the players cite that it’s their defense that is lacking these days.

Five goals against in the first half of the game is proof of that.

The Devils don’t have just one or two or three issues to deal with. They have 20 different issues, plus a few more. They’re not only losing games, they’re losing fans and revenue. This isn’t the Devils of old anymore trying to regain their Stanley Cup glory days. This just isn’t the Devils…and the other teams can see that when they play against them.

It’s time for all of that to change or accept taking last place this season. Sometimes sticking to the basics in hockey is all they need. It’s given them success so far this season.

The hard truth for the Devils on Thursday night’s loss was that the Canadiens did not embarrass them. The Devils have embarrassed themselves…and that is not the Devils way.

Gionta vs. Gionta

Brian (Canadiens) and Stephen (Devils) Gionta faced off against each other for the first time in their NHL careers. The brothers have been in the Devils organization for years, but never had the opportunity to play together for the same NHL team. Instead, they found themselves on opposite sides in their first NHL match together.

“Going in, it was a great experience being able to play against [Brian],” Stephen said after the loss. “But we’re here to get the two points and that didn’t happen tonight.”

“I thought it was cool,” Brian said of the matchup against his little brother. “It was a little weird at first, but once we got into it, it was fun. It was nice seeing him play out there.”

Their parents attended the game. Brian spoke about how it must have felt being in their shoes and watching two of their boys playing against each other for the first time in an NHL game.

“They’ve been the role models for the whole family,” Brian said of his parents. “They have been. It was a special night for them seeing two of their kids out there playing against each other. It must be pretty special. Hopefully, they enjoyed it.”

Were the siblings able to chat for a few minutes prior to the game? Apparently, no.

“I know how it is,” Brian said. “It’s strictly business over there. It was a tough one for them too. I thought he played well though.”

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2 Responses to “Devils in the Doldrums”

  1. Steve
    December 3, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Have you heard a rumor about a rift amongst the players that dates back to early in the season and deals with an argument that one Players wife had with another players brother? Do you think part of this teams play can be blamed on the team being completely divided?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Devils In The Doldrums « Michelle Kenneth's Hockey & Musings - December 6, 2010

    [...] I was a bit bothered by the way the Canadiens described the team they saw on the ice last week.  “Dead” was one of the many words they used.  This, especially to them, was not the New Jersey Devils. Devils In the Doldrums [...]