Jacques Lemaire's third stint with the New Jersey Devils didn't start as planned.
On Thursday night, New Jersey allowed three first period goals en route to a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders. That left the Devils, perennial playoff contenders, last in the league.
Lemaire will look to begin New Jersey's turnaround tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center.
New Jersey - losers of four straight and nine of 10 games - are free falling out of playoff contention. Their game contains a myriad of problems. The offense has scored one goal in 20 of 34 games. Ilya Kovalchuk has eight goals, and Jason Arnott leads all scorers with nine. The defense has been just as atrocious. New Jersey, winners of the Jennings Trophy last season, has already allowed 108 goals this season. Defenseman Andy Greene (-23) and Henrik Tallinder (-21) are among the worst plus/minus players for the Devils.
With those numbers in mind, Lemaire took a different approach to today's morning skate. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record it was "a little more in your face pre-game skate than normal."
Lemaire wanted his team to practice game situations before tonight.
"You get in the practice, you make them work and they work in the games," Lemaire said to Gulitti. "Now, everyone their mind is somewhere else in a way (because of) the defeat, mistakes and not doing well. Now you've got to build it up, so we get stronger mentally and we can play the game for 60 minutes being positive and working."
The Devils face a struggling Maple Leafs team tonight. Toronto dropped their last game, 6-3, to the Atlanta Thrashers Monday night in Toronto. Freddy Modin and Tobias Enstrom scored 28 seconds apart to put Atlanta ahead, 2-0. Modin would strike again in the second period, putting the Thrashers ahead 3-1. The Maple Leafs pulled to within 5-3 in the third period, but Andrew Ladd iced the victory with an empty-net goal.
The loss was Toronto's third straight.
The Maple Leafs face many of the same issues as the Devils. Little offense and terrible defense brought them a 12-17-4 record.
The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils, 3-1, on November 18 at the Prudential Center. Mikhail Grabovski struck first, giving the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead at 1:42 of the second period. Phil Kessel pushed the lead to 2-0 at 7:29 of the period. Dainius Zubrus cut the lead in the half, but the Devils couldn't overcome the deficit. Kris Versteeg ended any hopes of a comeback with a powerplay tally at 13:17 of the final period.
Lemaire was hoping his pre-game practice would restore some confidence to his team.
"It's nice to be able to work with them a little bit because I think this is what we need: practices," Lemaire told Gulitti. "We need this so they really understand what we're trying to achieve and what we want, how the game should be played. Because, probably with the lack of confidence, we deviate from how we should play.
"When you lose confidence, then you don't work as hard," the Devils coach said. "You don't backcheck as hard. You don't stop in your zone. You don't do the little things that you should do when things aren't going well that you will do when things go well."
Martin Brodeur, loser of his last four starts, will be in net tonight for New Jersey. In 45 starts against Toronto, Brodeur is 19-16-7-2 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.