Last night, the media found out that Ilya Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch from the lineup at the start of the game. No one knew why. No one could find out why.
Ends up, the Devils players were just as clueless as to what had happened to their teammate that night. He wasn’t even at the arena. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner responded that the team found out when they arrived at the arena that Kovalchuk was scratched.
“Nothing,” Langenbrunner said of what they were told about Kovalchuk. “It wasn’t addressed with us. You have to ask the guys that make the decisions.
“I’d love to give you some insight. We don’t know what’s going on. You have to ask the guys that make those decisions and have control. We really don’t know.”
“We didn’t know anything until we got here,” Zach Parise said. “We were real surprised. We didn’t know anything about it. I think we’re all surprised.”
As the media sat in the press room waiting for coach John MacLean to arrive for his press conference a little later than usual, the murmurings began that something was definitely amiss. What could it have been?
When MacLean finally arrived, his guarded front on what happened to Kovalchuk got even more bizarre as he tried to explain where the star forward was. The answer to the mystery was that he was the one that scratched the superstar.
But the more guarded he became, the more things just didn’t make sense…especially after threatening to scratch him again in Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers.
“It was my decision,” MacLean said. “I take responsibility for all of my decisions, including that decision.”
When asked if Kovalchuk was healthy to play, the coach responded, “I’m not getting into it one way or the other…I made that coaching decision.”
When explained that it was told to the media that he was a healthy scratch, the coach responded, “Ok, then he was a healthy scratch…coach’s scratch…whatever…however you guys [want to call it].”
Was it a hockey matter or a non-hockey matter? “I’m not discussing it,” he responded. “It was my decision. I made it. He knows. I spoke with him.”
MacLean said that the decision to scratch Kovalchuk was made mid-day, just in time to call up Alexander Vasyunov so he could arrive in Newark on time.
With all the secretiveness involved behind why the coach decided to scratch Kovalchuk following their 3-0 win in Montreal, it raised more questions than ever before. For instance, if it was just a coaching decision, then how do you explain the 6-1 loss?
If it’s discipline, who is being disciplined? Kovalchuk or the team?
There’s no question about it…the Devils have problems. You can only use the excuse of ‘bounces didn’t go our way’ for so long. Right now, they are not heading in a direction that would solve all of their problems. It seems like their situation is getting worse and worse.
But here is something to ponder…how well is the team doing working with this coach?
There is no question about it that MacLean is trying hard to make this team work. But just how hard is the team working for him? This is MacLean’s first real NHL head coaching position. He’s also their good friend and former teammate. They owe it to him to make his rookie season as a head coach one of the best seasons ever. The route they’re going now, he’ll be fired sooner rather than later.
They owe it to their old teammate to make him shine. If they continue on this path, they only have themselves to blame if he winds up without a job. They’ll end up letting down one of their best friends.
Sometimes you have to take that friendship and create an agenda together. They’re a group of professionals. They can make this team work. They can be winners once again.
Right now, they’re taking that friendship for granted and the coach is taking the heat for it. There is no excuse for the team to do this to their good friend. They owe it to him and to themselves to be a better, more disciplined team.
After all, it would be nice to have their fans stick around for the third period. Fans are leaving in droves when the third period begins because they know that their team won’t be coming back to win this one. Everyone can tell.
Sabres 6 – Devils 1
Martin Brodeur was given the night off for the Devils, and Johan Hedberg was given the start against Buffalo on Saturday night. But unfortunately for Hedberg, his team in front of him let him down in the most embarrassing way.
Drew Stafford started off the scoring for Buffalo at 6:57 in the first period. Following Stafford’s goal, Jason Arnott attempted to generate a shot on goal, which ended up being blocked by Rod Pelley at 7:35.
Unfortunately for Pelley, the puck went crashing into his nose. He immediately headed out of the arena to the nearest hospital, where they took x-rays which determined that nothing was broken.
“Just a good cut,” Pelley said of the diagnosis. “X-rays were negative, so that’s a good thing. It’s a good smack, that’s all.”
He had several stitches on his nose, which was still bleeding after the game.
Down a man, the Devils lost another goal to the Sabres at 16:33 from Tyler Myers.
At the start of the second period, Tyler Ennis tallied the Sabres third goal at 3:10, followed by another goal from Patrick Kaleta at 8:17.
After the Sabres fourth goal, MacLean pulled Hedberg and put Brodeur in. Hedberg had four goals against and made only nine saves in the 28:17 he was on the ice.
“We all feel horrible about that,” Langenbrunner said of how the players played in front of Hedberg. “[We] feel horrible about the way he was treated too. He’s out there battling as hard as he can. It’s quite a bit of a tough situation as he played. He’s here nearly a month and you want to go out there and play your best effort in front of him and we didn’t do that. It’s tough to see him treated that way. We know how much he wants to be a part of this and help us get going in the right direction.”
With David Clarkson in the penalty box for a questionable holding call, Thomas Vanek made it 5-0 against the Devils at 18:12.
The Devils returned to the ice in the third a little unsettled at their deficit on the scoreboard. With a Sabre making a solid hit on Tim Sestito, another Sabre came in, mistaking Sestito for delivering the hit. The Sabre grabbed the young rookie. Arnott came in to assist Sestito, only to be grabbed by another Sabre. Captain America (Langenbrunner) made his way over, only to be grabbed by two Sabres and tackled to the ice.
The Devils won a man advantage in the scrum when Paul Gaustad headed to the penalty box for roughing just 50 seconds into the third period. But the Devils went 0-for-3 on the power play Saturday night.
It wasn’t until the fans started chanting that the Devils needed to score a goal that Parise finally scored the lone goal of the evening for the Devils at 11:25. Vanek answered 25 seconds later with the Sabres sixth goal of the game at 11:50, ending the scoring 6-1.
Of note in the final period, Pelley eturned to the game with a full face shield.
“Rod’s a character kid,” MacLean said of Pelley coming back in the third. “He wanted to play. I welcome guys that want to come back and play after taking a puck to the face.”
With the Devils winning only two games out of eight this season, the questioning begins. Did Kovalchuk’s absence (and the team’s shock at finding out when they arrived at the arena) cause this embarrassing 6-1 loss?
“It’s part of playing in this league,” Langenbrunner said. “Kids are in and out of the lineup all throughout the season. You go with what you’ve got on the ice. You go and play the system. You try the best you can do. We didn’t do what we needed to do with the guys that were on the ice.
“There’s no excuses like that. We have a lot of guys out of the lineup, but it’s never an excuse here and it never will be. The guys on the ice are out there to do a job and we didn’t do it. We made way too many mistakes. We didn’t generate enough with playing the way we need to play.”
“Regardless, we had twenty guys that didn’t play tonight,” Parise said. “Regardless of whether [Kovalchuk] was in or out, we had twenty guys that didn’t play a good game.”
How does MacLean explain the 6-1 loss?
“I’m having trouble finding the answer to that myself,” he said. “But ultimately, it falls on my responsibility to have these guys prepared to play.”
Hopefully, they are prepared to face the Rangers on Sunday. MacLean was going to make his decision on Sunday morning on whether he was going to play Kovalchuk or not. The press won’t find out until the afternoon.
There are many conspiracy theories floating out there right now. It can only be put to rest when the Devils start answering the questions put before them.