|The New Jersey Devils' continued struggles led to the removal of John MacLean as head coach this past Thursday. Under MacLean's guidance, the Devils slumped to a 9-22-2 start in their opening 33 games this season. General Manager Lou Lamoriello opted to reinstall Jacques Lemaire behind the bench for the remainder of the 2010-11 season.
Lamoriello explained the decision to reporters on Thursday, "This is a decision that was not one that was pleasant. But it's a decision, in my opinion, that had to be made. Under no set of circumstances should all this responsibility be on the coach by any means. The responsibility lies on the players and myself for what couldn't be done. Unfortunately, we just weren't getting it done."
Devils' captain Jamie Langenbrunner was firmly behind MacLean all season and accepted that he and his teammates were responsible for the team's predicament. "I think all of us know that this is not on Johnny. When a coach is fired, he is the guy that is taking the fall, but it's really on all of us and I don't think anybody in here should feel exempt from that," Langenbrunner told The Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti.
Lamoriello mentioned that "the last four or five games" influenced his decision to replace MacLean. His final four appearances as head coach came against the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators at the Prudential Center and away to the Atlanta Trashers and Washington Capitals.
MacLean's last victory occurred on December 15th against the Phoenix Coyotes where Anssi Salmela returned to the Devils' lineup. Ilya Kovalchuk gave New Jersey an early advantage that evening via a one-timed blast. It was Dainius Zubrus who opportunistically stole the puck from the Coyotes' defense to setup the goal, earning his ninth assist of the season.
Before the close of the opening period, rookie defenseman Mark Fayne scored his first career NHL goal with Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac picking up assists. There was some confusion as the goal was originally awarded to Langenbrunner. The Devils' captain made sure the on ice officials knew he didn't deflect the puck and skated over to the bench to deliver the milestone puck to Fayne.
Langenbrunner provides the screen on Fayne's first career goal.
Neither team could find the net before the second intermission but New Jersey found themselves on the power play early in the third period. Kovalchuk struck again to increase the lead to 3-0 with his seventh goal of the current campaign. Zajac and Elias each recorded their second assists of the game, their twelfth and fifteenth respectively this season. The Devils kept the Coyotes off the scoreboard as Brodeur recorded his third shutout of the season.
MacLean came away impressed with his team's overall play, "I thought we had good energy. I thought we were on them right away. We had a great start and it all carried over from there."
Devils' fans hoped that this would be the start of winning streak but instead gave way to a series of heavy losses beginning with a 3-1 loss at the Nashville Predators. Steve Sullivan's shot trickled past Brodeur as the former Devil gave Nashville the advantage late in the first period. Martin Erat twice scored on the power play in each the second and third periods as the Predators gained a 3-0 stranglehold.
Mattias Tedenby answered back shortly after with a power play goal of his own, cutting the deficit to 3-1. It was Tedenby's fourth of the year as Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston picked up their tenth and third assists of the season respectively. That was all New Jersey could muster offensively as they failed to complete consecutive victories. Predators' goalie Anders Lindback wasn't very busy that night as he only had to make 15 saves to secure the win.
Brodeur expected a better showing offensively, "We're a good offensive team and today we didn't show much of it. You have to give them credit, they played really tight, they played really hard. Their big two defensemen played an awesome game. They controlled the play back there, Suter and Weber."