While it isn't quite Black Monday today, the news that both Paul Martin and David Clarkson are now officially out until after the Olympic break isn't exactly making yesterday's game go down any better. For Martin, it's a bigger blow than that for he won't be participating on Team USA in the Olympics either. Though some fans are probably glad at that fact, I looked on those games as ones he could have regained conditioning after missing so much time. Now even with him coming back in early March, it'll take at least several games for him to really get in gear. Same with Clarkson, but I guess in one sense the returning players will make the final month more interesting than merely seeing what seed the Devils get in the playoffs.
At least the news on Patrik Elias is a little better as he's begun skating and should return to practice soon, so there still seems a chance that he will come back before the Olympic break and be able to play for his country as well. Given our pitiful offense this month, he'll be welcomed back almost as much as he was in 2006, when his return energized the Devils, along with Lou Lamoriello taking over as coach.
I don't think Lou will be doing that this time around, especially given the regard he holds Jacques Lemaire in. However, the aftermath of yesterday's meltdown against the Kings troubles me as much as the actual game. For starters, while Lemaire had no problem admitting Martin Brodeur let up a soft goal to tie the game, he also tried to put a happy face on it saying that we only gave six or seven chances to the Kings and had bad breaks go against us. First of all while the Kings had almost nothing in terms of offense for the first fifteen minutes of the game, they got more pressure than that. It's just that they missed the net a lot too. Plus it's funny how those so-called bad breaks always seem to happen with the same players on the ice.
Worse, Lemaire completely absolved Mike Mottau of a rookie mistake, which would be fine if it was a rare occurence but it hasn't been this season. Mottau himself admitted that one of the Kings players schnookered him by calling for the puck and that's why he threw the blind backhand pass into nowhere. You just wonder what would have happened if Mark Fraser had done the same thing, god knows he gets almost no icetime as it is. And I'm not trying to say Fraser would be better than Mottau (though right now Mottau's no better than the fifth best defenseman on the team and will be sixth if Martin ever gets back), but it would be nice to see him get more time and our other defensemen who haven't been able to handle increased minutes get a little less.
Not to mention for the second game in a row, Lemaire broke up the straight Z's line in the third period when they were getting chances all night and could have been one shift away from ending the game. Again playing not to lose instead of playing to win. This time I get the explanation better, he wanted Zubrus as a center because (my words, not his) anyone not named Travis Zajac on our current roster really isn't an NHL center. Maybe Rob Niedermayer can still be a fourth-liner, but he's playing second-line now. Lemaire admitted he was giving Nieds the second too many minutes. We're just now figuring out a five-hundred year old center can't handle eighteen minutes a night? Shocking.
If you want to put Zubrus at center and restore Jamie Langenbrunner to the Zajac line, fine by me - just do it before the game, not during it when we're trying to hold a lead and that line's dominating. Worrying about Robbie Nieds' icetime when he's already gotten fifteen minutes seemed too little too late last night. Especially considering in his last two shifts which lasted under a minute combined, he was on the ice for both goals. So much for the checking line.
And lastly, as far as Brodeur getting testy when someone asked him about his workload in the postgame, please don't. If you want the questions to stop then prove you can play 75 games and have a deep playoff run post-lockout at 38 years old. It's one thing to do it when you're 30 and have a defense led by two HOF'ers allow twenty shots a night, quite another to do it behind a patchwork defense facing thirty shots a night at a more advanced age. He sure hasn't done it with a limitless workload since 2003, which was almost seven years ago. It's no accident that he was rock-solid for 6 and 58/60th of the playoff series against the Hurricanes last year when he didn't have the opportunity to run up a lot of mileage during the regular season and this being an Olympic year makes it worse.
Sigh, so I guess we'll see how everything shakes out tomorrow against a dramatically revamped Leafs team. Too bad they didn't wait till Tuesday to trade Vesa Toskala, they could literally have started three different goalies against us in eight days. Of course, it always adds a few fireworks when Jean-Sebastian Giguere mans the pipes against the Devils and I'm sure hoping to see him there Friday though I'm not counting on it. More likely he'll start tomorrow at home and they'll go back to Jonas Gustavsson on Friday, but who knows with the Leafs...maybe Brian Burke will trade for another goalie before the drop of the puck tomorrow.
It would be nice if the Sutters stopped doing our rival teams favors though, at least they're making sure they have a lot more time for Red Deer by strip-mining the Flames and greasing the skids for both to be fired at the end of the year.