New York Hockey: John MacLean

Torts has Johnny Mac's back

January, 24, 2011
Rangers head coach John Tortorella has seldom hesitated in speaking his mind, and last Friday he rebuked Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher for comments the Bolts' bench boss made after his team was clipped twice by the suddenly streaking New Jersey Devils. After falling in both rounds of a home-and-home series, Boucher remarked: "I think if Jacques had been there since the beginning, they would be [up] there again," referring to the mid-season replacement of rookie coach John MacLean with Jacques Lemaire. While the quip may have been intended as a compliment to Lemaire, some, including Tortorella, took it as a shot at MacLean.

In an interview with the New York Post's Larry Brooks on Friday, Tortorella politely told Boucher, a first-year coach himself, to keep his thoughts to himself:

"It's none of my business, but coaching is tough enough without comments like these coming from people who should know better ... Johnny [MacLean] worked his [butt] off over there in Jersey under what weren't the greatest circumstances at all with the [Ilya] Kovalchuk situation, Zach Parise getting injured right at the start, and he lost his job, lost the job he'd always wanted, and now there are these comments coming from another NHL head coach.

"This is a tough enough job. Stay in your own business. Coach your own team ... Don't shoot your mouth off about another situation you don't know anything about."

You can read the rest of the reaction via the link above.

There's no doubt the Devils are surging all of the sudden -- winners of four straight, points in seven straight -- but every Devils player during the team's early struggles stated expressly that MacLean was not the cause of the problems. Guess you can add Tortorella to that list as well.

Devs try to drop pounds, pick up points

December, 28, 2010
Well, it’s official. Christmas is just a lousy time of year for guys named John MacLean -- no matter the spelling. After terminating the die-hard head coach, he of the 9-22-2 debut, GM Lou Lamoriello said the rookie bench boss did not deserve all the blame.

That didn’t stop him from dropping the axe two days before Christmas. On a game day.

The change has helped little thus far, but after falling -- hard -- to the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Devils and new head coach Jacques Lemaire now have a little bit more time to get their legs underneath them before taking on the New York Rangers Wednesday. And it looks like the Devs' New Year's resolution will be to drop a few pounds.

Here’s a look around the snow-covered media world of the Devils.

Morning Links

Donnie Pucks: It was time

December, 23, 2010
After a 9-22-2 start, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello did the only thing that he could. He pulled the plug on John MacLean. It had to be tough. Lou had worked hard to to get MacLean this chance, but it clearly failed.

The Devils might be the worst team in the league. They are tied with the Islanders for the worst in the league with 20 points. N.J. is last in goals scored with 59 and have a minus-44 goal differential.

You can't just sit and watch, what is perhaps, the worst year in Devils history without saying goodbye to the coach. Even if it's just 33 games into his first season.

Jacques Lemaire will likely take over for the rest of the season. This is the cheaper move. Lemaire is still being paid so it is unlikely chairman/managing partner Jeff Vanderbeek is going to pay for three coaches.

Lemaire will get this team playing better and with more purpose. This season is over, but they should at least play more like a team that belongs in this league and not what Devils fans have been forced to watch all year long.

This summer will be huge for N.J.

Will Lamoriello stay as the GM? There are rumblings that he may call it quits.

Adam Oates came to the Devs for a reason, will he be the next coach?

Do they go after Michel Therrien, Ken Hitchcock or Guy Carbonneau? All would be great choices.

I for one would love to see Hitchcock. He has won a cup and he coaches the defensive style that the Devils love to run. He has also handled stars in his career like, Rick Nash, Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick. He has just the resume to handle the underachieving Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Devils are moving on. It's all about next season now.

Devils are special, but still struggling

December, 14, 2010
The Devils have been relatively unimpressive during their five-game losing streak, but they have shown some glimmers of improvement on special teams. Over the past four games New Jersey have converted 7 of 15 chances with the man advantage and have killed off all 16 penalties they’ve taken.

That’s not bad at all. In fact it’s downright impressive. But, naturally, there’s a flip side: The Devils have just one even-strength goal in the past four games. New Jersey is the league’s worst team at even strength nearly getting outscored 2 to 1. More bad news for the Devs playoff hopes? Their top three opponents in the Atlantic Division – Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the Rangers – all rank in the top 10 in 5-on-5 goal differential.

Perhaps it’s for those reasons that the AP published a story yesterday painting a rather grim picture of the Devils’ immediate future. Near the end, the writer jokes that Martin Brodeur was asked yesterday if he asked Santa Claus for a few wins. Hey, it couldn’t hurt.

Morning Links

John MacLean discusses Anssi Salmela’s imminent return on Wednesday on the Devils’ official site.

A little more on the team’s special teams play from the team site.

From Tom Gulitti, Zach Parise is getting healthier, but there are no new developments on a new contract. This season can’t be painting a pretty picture for Parise regarding a future in Jersey. If he re-ups, it won’t be his team with Ilya Kovalchuk inked for the next 14.5 seasons, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to correct the problems currently plaguing them, Brodeur will be another season close to retirement and they simply won’t have a ton of money to address offseason needs … or provide a hefty contract for Parise. As a restricted free agent, Parise could certainly return to the Devils, but anyone assuming it’s a sure thing at this point is stretching.

Gulitti also writes that the Devils’ faith is being tested this season.

In Lou We Trust speculates over the inaction of the site’s namesake.

Rich Chere writes that the Devils appear set on riding out the storm with John MacLean at the helm.

Devils' hopes continue to dwindle

December, 13, 2010
The Devils are still on the skids, as their losing streak reached five games over the weekend with a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. The team will try to regroup by Wednesday when the Phoenix Coyotes will come to town, followed by another home date with the Nashville Predators on Friday. In the meantime, here’s some surveillance from the New Jersey media landscape.

Morning Links
  • Albany’s game on the boardwalk of Atlantic City was postponed due to bad ice, writes Tom Gulitti. Alexander Vasyunov and Matt Corrente may have been sent to Albany for that game, but there was no official announcement, according to Gulitti.
  • Sitting 17 points out of the final playoff spot in the East, hope is rapidly fading for the Devils’ postseason chances, with Gulitti suggesting that John MacLean’s time as head coach could soon come to an end.
  • Dave Hutchison writes that MacLean appears safe, at least for the moment.
  • Chris Botta writes for FanHouse that by standing pat, the Devils may get to draft a star come June. I doubt that's the kind of consolation prize Devils fans are looking for right now. Besides, there are a few solid prospects at the top of this draft, but no clear franchise players like a Crosby, Ovechkin or Stamkos. And given the Devils’ no-trade clauses, I don’t know if standing pat is a choice, so much as their only option.

Lamoriello: "We're staying our course"

December, 8, 2010
A day after post-game comments from captain Jamie Langenbrunner fueled rumors of a possible coaching change or roster shake-up, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello threw some cold water on such speculation Wednesday.

As reported by the media, including the Star-Ledger's Rich Chere and the Record's Tom Gulitti, Lamoriello stated that the team is "staying the course" despite early-season struggles that have put a potential playoff berth in serious jeopardy. Perhaps in an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure surrounding the team, Lamoriello stepped into the crosshairs himself:

"Right now for anyone to focus in on one aspect, they can focus in on me. I take responsibility for where we're at right now. And it's going to be my responsibility for me to do everything I can to try and get us on the right path."

As reported on Fire and Ice, it's unclear what Lamoriello is willing to do to get his team back on track:

“We’re staying on our course,” Lamoriello said. “You can take that and go whatever way you want to go. We’re here today every one of us. This is our team. Right now what we have to do is look at today. Look at what we can do today to get better and prepared to play against Ottawa. As far as anything else, to me, it’s all speculation.”

The GM went on to say that he didn't feel you could place the blame for the team's poor play on any single aspect, otherwise it would have been addressed all ready. It seems clear that Lamoriello is giving MacLean as much slack as possible at this point, possibly believing lies with an inflexible roster hamstrung by salary-cap issues. Considering the Devils still have not many any trades to clear cap space, it's a safe assumption the market has not picked up for any of the team's tradeable commodities (Dainius Zubrus et al).

Unfortunately for MacLean, he remains the easiest component to change. Even with public support from Lamoriello, speculation about his job status is certain to keep swirling unless the Devils can get back to winning consistently.

Langenbrunner: "Something is going to happen"

December, 7, 2010
The Devils fell (again) 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night, increasing their most recent slide to three games and leaving them with just 18 points through 27 games. After the action stopped, captain Jamie Langenbrunner told the Star-Ledger's Rich Chere he believes a change is coming:
"I would hope so. I think we all know Lou [Lamoriello] well enough that something is going to happen," Langenbrunner said. "Deservedly so."

The captain expounded to say that doesn't mean the firing of rookie head coach John MacLean and that he hopes the move is made within the Devils' roster.
"Not at all. That's the furthest thing from it," Langenbrunner explained. "I would hope that he's not. That doesn't deserve to happen. It should be one of us."

Here's a look at the rest of the morning-after around the Web.

Morning Links

W2W4: Devils vs. Penguins

December, 6, 2010
The New Jersey Devils just can’t seem to stay off of losing streaks. Here’s what to watch for tonight as they try to halt their most recent skid at two games.

Wounded Knee
Evgeni Malkin sat out the Penguins’ Saturday slamming of the Columbus Blue Jackets with an injured knee that has nagged him for about the past month. The Pens may decide to rest him again Monday, particularly since he hasn’t performed particularly well against the Devils in the recent past. Over the past two seasons vs. New Jersey, Malkin has no points and carries a minus-four rating. Of course, Pens captain Sidney Crosby is more than making up for any player’s lack of production with 31 points over his past 15 games this season.

Fourth Line Fireworks
According to reports from The Record’s Tom Gulitti, Devils head coach John MacLean dropped Mattias Tedenby down to the fourth line at practice Sunday. For the most part it appears he’ll skate with Rod Pelley and Stephen Gionta, though Alexander Vasyunov also spent some time there during the skate. Afterwards, MacLean maintained that the Swedish spark plug would still get plenty of ice time. MacLean may also double shift Ilya Kovalchuk on the fourth line, as he did against Philadelphia over the weekend.

Hed Strong
Johan Hedberg will get the start tonight against his former team. The Devils’ backup has played well while filling in for Martin Brodeur, though his last game against the Flyers was his worst in the past six games. Still, Hedberg flaunts a 1.94 goals-against average during that stretch. Against the Pens, he’s 2-2-1 with a 2.90 GAA.

W2W4: Canadiens vs. Devils

December, 2, 2010
The Devils look to start a tough stretch of their schedule on the right foot tonight, as they take on the Canadiens just a few days after attending the memorial service of Pat Burns, who helmed both teams over his illustrious career. The Habs got some extra motivation last night, coughing up a 3-1 lead to the lowly Oilers and losing in OT, 4-3. You can bet Montreal will come out gunning at The Rock Thursday. Here's what to watch for.

Offensive Illusion?

After breaking out for five goals against the Washington Capitals, the Devils have again struggled to find the back of the net. New Jersey managed just one regulation goal in wins over Calgary and Philadelphia and was blanked by the Isles. It's got to be nice for the Devils to have six standings points in their past four games, but they haven't quite proven they're pushed past their early-season ailments just yet.

Langenbrunner's Back?

Captain Jamie Langenbrunner said that he feels better after battling a neck injury and is ready to go, pending a decision from head coach John MacLean. Langenbrunner was sidelined Nov. 10 in a shootout loss to Buffalo. He seemed to be heating up before suffering the injury, recording four points in the three games before going down. We'll see if he can carry over any of that momentum Thursday night.

Cold Kovy Fired Up?

The New York Post's Mark Everson writes Thursday about Ilya Kovalchuk's response to rumors he's choosing not to score while MacLean is coach. And we can't really publish that response here. That a player would choose to mail it in and invite global criticism to get a coach ousted is a little tough to buy. The two may have had some differences over the shift to right wing and that healthy scratch against the Sabres, but man, a goal-scorer boycotting goals? That's like a fraternity house boycotting beer. I don't see it. Maybe the whispers will give Kovalchuk a little fuel for his fire Thursday night though.

Morning Links

Just one to share with you from the estimable Tom Gulitti: This past week was a particularly moving one for the Devils' David Clarkson, who departed the Burns service to fly to Kitchener and attend the wake of a five- year-old he'd met through his charity, Clarky's Kids. It's a touching story, and a great reminder that there are athletes whose concerns do extend beyond the game. Hat's off to Clarkson and condolences.

Still do-or-die time for the Devils

November, 30, 2010
For all of their troubles, the Devils are still only eight points out of the playoff hunt, and one hot streak could push them out of the basement and back into the thick of things. Now, they just have to, you know, have a hot streak.

After picking up six of a possible eight points last week, the Devils seem to be warming up, but it also seems quite likely that the next three weeks will provide the stretch that will make or break the team’s postseason dreams.

New Jersey next skates Thursday at home against Montreal before hitting the road for a three-game trip to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. That’s followed by a three-game homestand against Detroit, Phoenix and Nashville. The Devils have shown that they can win against the NHL elite, with recent victories against Washington and Philly, and they will need to do so again. If they emerge with just six of a possible 14 points, they would need to claim an average of 1.29 standings points per game over the remaining 51 contests just to hit the 90-point threshold and scrape into the bottom of the playoff picture.

To put that in perspective, the Devils would have to play like a 105-point team for the remainder of the schedule, 2 points better than they played all of last season.

One other point of reference: A lot of folks have mentioned the unlikely turnaround of the Washington Capitals in 2007-08 as a comparison point for the Devils. That season, the Caps snagged 17 points through their first 24 games, one fewer than the Devs have at that point. But, keep in mind that the Caps were coming out of a Southeast Division that produced just one playoff team that season, while the 2010-11 Devils are battling in what might be the East’s best division, with 10 more games against the Flyers and Penguins. So while the comparison between the Caps and Devils fits on one level, it’s apples and oranges in terms of strength of schedule.

Morning Links

Devils not going streaking

November, 16, 2010
The Devils managed to elude another opportunity to post their first winning streak of the season, getting smothered by the Bruins, 3-0, Monday night.

Game Story | Box Score

Martin Brodeur was not in his usual fine form, giving up a bad angle goal with the Devils down two men in the first, then beaten by two wrist shots from the tops of the circles. Not that it mattered, considering the Devils couldn’t mount a single goal against human wall Tim Thomas and a Boston blue line led by Zdeno Chara.

Here’s a glimpse of the Devils media landscape after the loss.

Morning Links

Poor D, Kovy flub doom Devils

November, 11, 2010
One point is better than nothing, but given the Devils’ slow start to the season the shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night feels rather disappointing.

Game Story | Box Score

On the positive side, the vets stepped up (two goals by Jason Arnott and another by Jamie Langenbrunner) and a fresh face made a solid impact (Mattias Tedenby earned his first NHL point with an assist on Arnott’s first goal). Still it wasn’t enough to earn a badly needed win.

The Devils enjoyed a 4-3 lead in the third period when everyone on the ice decided to stare at the puck-carrier behind Johan Hedberg’s crease and leave Tyler Ennis all alone on the doorstep for the slam dunk tying goal.

The end of the shootout poured about a gallon of salt into the Devils’ sizeable early-season wounds, as Ilya Kovalchuk flubbed Jersey’s final attempt to tie it without even mustering a shot. Instead the puck trickled off his stick as he skated in on back-up netminder Jhonas Enroth. If nothing else it was a tidy metaphor for the Devils’ struggles to this point.

Morning Links

Brodeur may be back Wednesday

November, 8, 2010
The Devils have had a few days to recover from various injuries before next skating against Buffalo this Wednesday and they seem to be enjoying the benefits of the time off.

Among those on the uptick is goaltender Martin Brodeur, who didn’t practice Monday, but said his bruised elbow felt “30 percent better.” While he said he would need until Wednesday’s morning skate to properly evaluate his status, he did not rule out returning to action that night.

Here are a few more notes on a quiet Monday in the NHL.

Evening Links

W2W4: Devils vs. Blackhawks

November, 3, 2010
Three months. That's how long the New Jersey Devils, a team struggling to put the puck in the net, will be without last season's top scorer, Zach Parise.

Averaging just 1.5 goals per game, New Jersey already needed someone to step up their offense simply to get the Devs off their early-season slide. Now they'll need someone to carry them all the way through the end of January.

With this ominous development hanging over their heads, the Devils take on the reigning Stanley Cup champions in Chicago tonight, a team whose defensive corps ranked as the league's best a season ago. Here are three keys to watch for as New Jersey seeks a badly needed W.

Shoot. Again. And Again.
Ilya Kovalchuk has recorded just two shots on goal in each of the Devils' last three games after getting completely shutout against San Jose. Just like in basketball when good shooters need to shoot themselves out of slumps, Kovalchuk needs to keep firing. Not that shots will come easy against the Hawks tonight. Chicago's netminders faced the fewest shots of any NHL team last season, but so far the Blackhawks haven't been able to lock down opposing offenses in the same way (20th in shots against per game). The Devils, and particularly Kovalchuk, need to fire at will.

Even Strength?
The Devils are the NHL's worst team when skating five aside. Any improvement by the team needs to start here. Getting outscored 28-15 at even strength just isn't going to cut it. Part of the reason for that lopsided margin has been bad turnovers. You may have the same number of players on the ice, but when your players try to dangle the puck in the neutral zone only to get their pockets picked, suddenly the math gets a lot uglier with an odd-man rush going back towards Martin Brodeur. Needless to say, that's not an equation for success.

Watch All The Weapons
Patrick Sharp. Marian Hossa. Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews. New Jersey isn't going to be able to match up the way it wants against all of Chicago's top skaters, particularly not on the road where John MacLean won't enjoy the last line change. Everyone on the ice will need to keep their heads on swivels to keep Chicago off the scoreboard. With the litany of Devils injuries, this is an opportunity for some young players to step up and make a solid impression.

Devils' despair deepens

November, 2, 2010
The Devils' record stands at 3-9-1. They have the fewest goals in the NHL. Their goal differential of minus-22 is almost twice as bad as the NHL's second-worst mark (Anaheim at minus-13). Zach Parise is preparing for exploratory surgery. Veterans are raising questions about their playing time and their playoff chances. Oh, and the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks lie in wait Wednesday to cap the Dev's six-game road trip.

These be some dark days for Devils fans. Considering all news has been bad news for the Jersey boys lately, Tuesday has been mercifully quiet, but some postgame quotes from Monday's loss to Vancouver have raised some ominous questions.

For starters, just how upset is Jason Arnott over his limited playing time? The veteran center took just three shifts in the third period Monday night and told the Star-Ledger's Rich Chere that he had "no idea" why his ice time was reduced. Arnott says he's not injured and didn't recall doing anything that would merit the benching. In reference to playing time, Arnott added, "It's been a little weird this season."

You can infer what you like from that quote about the team's early comfort level under rookie head coach John MacLean. (MacLean said he "didn't really notice how much [Arnott] sat," according to Chere's report.) More obvious is the growing sense of concern in the New Jersey locker room that this team will be playoff-worthy.

Within the Star-Ledger's game recap, Arnott and his teammates voiced some doubts. "We're at the botom right now. If we don't turn this around, it's going to be real hard to (make the playoffs)," Arnott said.

Martin Brodeur's two cents: "It's one thing to slide, but now we're putting ourselves so far behind the eight ball." But, Brodeur doesn't think the team is behind repair just yet.

When asked if he really thinks the team would miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96, the stellar stopper stated: "No, I don't think so. I don't see that at game 13. But it gets tiring mentally and physically."

With players under-performing and injuries, tension and losses mounting, New Jersey sure could use a few wins to staunch the bleeding. However, between the injury bug, no-movement clauses and a shortage of cap space, it likely will be up to the ragged remaining roster to redouble their efforts and earn those elusive victories. With that bleak reality, it's easy to see why optimism is in such short supply.