Thursday, December 23, 2010

Devils fire MacLean, bring back Lemaire and get humiliated by the Isles

If I haven't already had it with everyone and everything associated with the 2010-11 Devils tonight was definitely the tipping point. Or rather this entire twelve-hour stretch which saw the Devils fire John MacLean, re-hire Jacques Lemaire for the third time and then get embarassed by the lowly Isles for the second time this season, dropping into sole possession of last place in the entire NHL. And for the coup de grace, word on Zach Parise is he won't even begin skating till March and might not come back at all this season. All of this in twelve hours, and this 5-1 loss coming on the heels of successive 7-1 and 5-1 defeats. Even AHL teams would be more competitive at this point.

Where to begin, well might as well begin with the predictable sacking of MacLean. It was only a question of when at this point, given the Devils' hideous record and MacLean's own inability to show any emotion or get his team to play any semblance of a system. I admit I had no use for him as a coach, and I'm not going to get all indignant about firing the man two days before Christmas. Yeah, it looks bad from a PR standpoint and brought back memories of the Jets sacking Joe Walton two days before Christmas way back when but let's be honest, everyday people get laid off around the holidays all the time. I figured it would happen at the end of the year when you could get a long-term replacement in here but if management wants to make a move based on the fact that we have six home games coming up in the next fifteen days and you want to appease the fans somewhat (along with the fact we'd fallen into last place as of this morning), well whatever.

What rubbed me the wrong way about this firing is once again a coach gets changed before any players get fired. WHEN IN GOD'S NAME IS LOU GOING TO START FIRING PLAYERS?!?!?! If he had even just traded someone like a Jamie Langenbrunner before making this move I'd be all in favor of it but without changing any of the players it comes off as more 'status quo', Lou's stock answer for most of this offseason when asked about the Ilya Kovalchuk saga. How many coaches does this group get to fire? In the last thirty years of professional sports, the Devils are literally the most unstable head coaching job, with an average of 1.2 years for each Devils bench boss. And most of that has been with Lou Lamoriello as the GM.

Not to mention Lou's replacement was Lemaire, the same coach who had been run off by this group just several months ago after the team played disinterested in most of the last four months of the season, specifically the playoffs. This same group that tuned him out is all of a sudden going to listen to him again?! Having Lemaire back in the same room with our 'captain' is just asking for disaster after all the problems that existed between the two last year. Yeah I know Lemaire will bring more of a structure than Johnny Mac and at least cares enough to yell at the refs or his team unlike our former coach but come on. This is just taking a bad situation and making it worse.

Just look at how the Devils responded to the firing tonight, with a disinterested first period against the league's second-worst team that saw them fall behind 3-0 with only three shots on net for the majority of the period. Apparently someone snapped in the locker room during the first intermission cause the Devils came out and actually gave effort (for the most part) the rest of the game, outshooting the Isles 32-6 in the last 40+ minutes. Of course the Devils being the Devils, the margin of defeat actually increased as they gave up a ridiculous shorthanded goal in the second period with hideous backchecking by Kovalchuk, who threw Josh Bailey right into goaltender Martin Brodeur, leaving a loose puck and a wide-open net for Frans Nielsen to put in a backbreaking shorthanded goal, just when it looked as if we might turn the momentum after Travis Zajac's early second-period tally.

To say the fans were on edge is putting it mildly...the boos for the team after their wonderful first period started with twenty seconds left. Marty was getting a ton of Bronx cheers after allowing the three in the first period (to go along with four in less than half a game in Atlanta and five against the Caps) and even Kovy was getting booed after his bad play on the shorthanded goal, and with expectations not even being close to met for the $100 million player offensively. Kovy's only impressive number is a negative one - a league worst -24 on the season. I wigged out on our captain after his hideous giveaway led to the Isles' first goal by Bailey, barely three minutes into the game. He looked uninspired by the coaching change, big surprise. Even Brodeur looked disinterested at times, allowing a couple of bad goals and making some Brett Favre-like who cares passes late in the game.

For his part, Lemaire was befuddled at the team's struggles.

“It looked like they had lost their ability to play the game, which is very strange,” Lemaire said after watching the Devils lose their fourth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 10. “I have never seen this in the past. Never.”

Join the club, Sherlock. At least he seems to understand the one thing that is definitely missing from the team right now:

“There is one thing that we can take care of and that is we are going to work,” Lemaire said. “I felt and I could see that it was hard because they had something else, that (look of) defeat that they have right now. I am not a psychologist but I can see things, I feel things. I could feel it.”

Recognizing that and actually getting a group that for the most part hasn't played hard in a year to do so are two different things. Until that happens, things are only going to keep getting worse before they get better.

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