Back on June 17th, after John MacLean was named head coach of the New Jersey Devils, I wrote the following:
Point is: Johnny Mac, we're glad you finally got a chance, but the window's even closer to closing than ever to win with Martin Brodeur creeping closer to both 40 years of age and the end of a contract. It has become abundantly clear with every single move made by this team: Win now, or face the consequences.
When I wrote that line, I was thinking "Well, he's gotta get something done in the playoffs. The regular season is a given with this bunch." How wrong I have turned out to be. After Friday night's 3-0 whitewashing to the New York Rangers, the Devils are 4-10-1 under MacLean. They are 13th in the Eastern Conference in points with nine, 26th overall in the NHL, despite having played more games than any team, save for the Chicago Blackhawks. They have scored a stunningly low, even for the Devils, 25 goals in their 15 contests. Even more alarmingly, they have surrendered more than three goals a game under Johnny Mac. The total (48) is nearly double the number they have scored themselves.
Even worse, Friday night's game seemed to be a microcosm of everything that's been going wrong for the Devils in the 2010-11 campaign so far. They had further injuries/maladies with Martin Brodeur and Colin White temporarily adding to a list that gets longer everyday (Anton Volchenkov, Bryce Salvador, Brian Rolston, Zach Parise, Jacob Josefson, Pierre-Luc Letourneau Leblond, Alexander Urbom, Matt Corrente and Tyler Eckford have all missed time or been demoted to Albany for one injury or problem or another). They had periods of inspired offensive work along the boards, but none off the rush, and when it cam time to set something up ... no one wanted to shoot.
Furthermore, they refuse to capitalize on their man advantages. After going 0-for-3 vs. New York, the Devils have gone 15 games in this season having scored an absolutely insipid, unfathomable total of three goals on the power play. They have a 6.5% performance on the power play. That is unacceptable, for both players and the coaches. Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac are all high-end offensive players in this league. John MacLean, Adam Oates and Larry Robinson on the coaching staff were all terrific, high-end offensive players when they played in the league. How can this bunch not figure something out?
The defensive lapses have been a little easier to sit with, because the injuries have largely affected them, and it's really hard to set-up a defensive scheme every night with four rookies playing. Some, like Matt Taormina, have panned out. Others ... well, they've gone to the AHL a couple of times to find any solution. It's not their fault alone. It took a lot more time than it should have for Henrik Tallinder to get accustomed to playing here. Marty Brodeur had a poor first couple of games. Colin White remains a human traffic cone. Andy Greene's play has dropped off.
However, all things with this team have to come back to the fact that this offense, an offense featuring three players with 40-goal seasons in their past, has not produced a game where they've scored more than three honest goals. The only place they accomplished the feat was in Chicago, and they needed two empty netters to do it. They've scored more than two goals twice in 15 games. They've been shut out twice in their last three. The team shows a stunning lack of finish.
However, all of these things might - and I stress, might - be easier to swallow if there weren't periods of time that this club showed it's inexplicable ability to flat-out quit. Ilya Kovalchuk should not have touched the ice in the third period after a lazy back-checking effort that led to a short-handed goal by Brandon Dubinsky. Kovalchuk also took a stupid, inexcusable, unnecessary penalty with the Devils still within fighting distance. After a first part of the season that has seen him a healthy scratch, Kovy, it seems, is just another coach-killer on a team filled with them.
That brings us back to MacLean. He is not in a fair situation. I certainly hope it doesn't hurt his chances down the line. A GM with a young, up-and-coming bunch might think he got some rotten luck. Overpaid, prima donna stars that quit on him at seemingly no urging (Jamie Langenbrunner is not excused from that list, by the way), a list of injuries that could fill up some of the national teams at February's Olympics, a couple of over the hill players that it took awhile to get in the swing of things, and enough new players to affect any chance the team would have at chemistry if things went badly at the start.
Regardless of luck, however, Johnny Mac has done himself no favors. He's pushed the wrong buttons at the wrong time, and he and Adam Oates both certainly deserve the blame for this team's inability to produce offensively, and especially the horrifying inefficiency of the power play. As much as it pains any decent person to say it, the time is now to save the season and make a change. Lou Lamoriello's team has four days between now and their next game, a Wednesday home game vs. Buffalo. I'd say Lamoriello has a lot to think about in that period of time. I think he knows the right decision. The question of whether or not he makes it could define the season. Choose wisely.