The New Jersey Devils are a mess, and even Jacques Lemaire is struggling to fix the team. Defensive issues, inconsistent play and injuries are some of the multitude of reasons for the Devils abysmal season.
Lemaire admitted it’s been tough, but wants to fix the team.
“It’s tough,” Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “It’s hard. Just hard. As a coach, when you come in and your team doesn’t have success, you’re trying find (out) what’s going on, what is the problem, what can you fix and then the team keeps losing. You fix certain things and then you run into maybe at a time that thought, ‘I don’t know what to do anymore.’ Then, if that happens, you keep losing , then if you keep coming in and say, ‘I don’t know what’s the problem’ or ‘I don’t know this’, and you don’t have solutions, now you’re done. I’m not at that point.
“I’m not at that point. I don’t feel that I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve got a (stuff), let me tell you. I’ve got a lot of stuff. I know sometimes you feel like this: you’ve done a lot of stuff and you don’t see the light and then you’re questioning, ‘What else can I do?’ But if this keeps going, that’s how at a time you’ll get. You can’t keep going.”
Lemaire and the Devils will look to get back on track tonight against the rival Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center.
This matchup usually features two teams fighting for position in the conference and division. But this year, both teams sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Devils, who are 10-27-2, sit eight points behind the New York Islanders, who are 29th overall. New Jersey also trails Montreal by 23 points for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s all but certain that the Devils will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96.
The Flyers have been one of the top teams all season. They currently have 53 points, which is good fourth in the conference and second in the Atlantic Division. The tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher have been stellar, allowing the Flyers to assign playoff hero Michael Leighton to the AHL. Despite an injury to Chris Pronger, the team continues to play strong defense.
Lemaire admitted the Devils need improvement in all areas.
“You’ve got young guys that they don’t know the game,” Lemaire said to Gulitti. “You’ve got guys that we’ve got to get in shape. We’ve got to get the whole team to play together. There’s a lot of stuff there.
“We’ve got goalies that we’ve got to get back. We’ve got the scorers that we’ve got to get them to score. We’ve got the checkers that we’ve got to get them to check. A lot of stuff. And you’ve got the power play that you’ve got to work on so you can get goals and we’ve got to kill penalties so they do get goal. And we’ve go to be better five-on-five.”
Johan Hedberg, one of the better players this season, will start tonight against the Flyers. He’s 1-1-0 against Philadelphia this season. Hedberg stopped 44 shots in a 2-1 shootout win November 27 against the Flyers, but allowed four goals on 33 shots in a December 4 loss.
Hedberg believes the regular playing time is helping him find a rhythm.
“It’s different when you play regularly than when you play once in a while,” Hedberg told Gulitti. “I feel like I get more into the rhythm thinking and then moving and the way I feel the game. My patience is better. I know when I haven’t played in a while, sometimes you want to do too much and you end up chasing it around. Hopefully, I can play a patient game and read the play as well.”
The Devils, still winless in 2011, have little to play for with a postseason berth out of reach.
But despite the bleak outlook, Lemaire believes there’s still motivation for the players.
“The motivation is getting back on track,” Lemaire told Gulitti. “It’s as simple as that: just getting back on track and be a little proud of at least we’re trying, working as a group, working as a team and we look like a team.”