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Dealing With The Devils: Bedeviled

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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By Max Herman
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Over the first few weeks of this 2010-2011 Devils’ season, I’ve done my best to stay optimistic, while at the same time being logical and realistic. But there are certain things about this horrendous start to the year that just don’t make any sense at all. Some of it has been bad play, some of it has been bad coaching, and some of it has just been plain bad luck. But in the end the results are what they are. Ten games played. Two games won…

It would be one thing if the team wasn’t giving a full effort on a nightly basis, but I don’t think hustle has been the issue here. It’s always infuriating as a fan when you get the sense that your team isn’t playing as hard as they could. But how frustrating is it when your team does appear to be giving it their all, but still keeps getting beat? Just ask a Devil fan…

The statistics are ugly. Some of them are downright embarrassing. Devils’ fans, if you’re squeamish, you may not want to look. But here they are:

- 29th out of 30 teams in goals allowed (35)

- Last in goals scored (17)

- 3-for-33 on the power play, 1 shorthanded goal allowed

- 2-7-1 record, 5 points (fewest in the NHL)

- Worst 10-game start in franchise history since 1983-84 season (1-9-0)

Is it possible that a team with this much talent can really be this bad? I would certainly hope not. And I don’t think it is. Let’s remember, one 10-game stretch does not a full season make. But eight 10-game stretches does.

The Devils have put themselves in a position where they have to start rattling off stretches of consecutive wins, and soon. If they remain stagnant, they will eventually get buried. It’s difficult to catch teams from behind in the modern-day NHL because games that go to overtime reward each team with at least one point.

But someone has to be at fault here right? Who should we point our respective fingers at?

I am a firm believer that a head coach gets too much of the blame when his team is losing, and too much credit when they win. But that’s not to say that John MacLean hasn’t been guilty of a few questionable maneuvers.

First, why start Johan Hedberg against the Sabres, when Martin Brodeur was coming off his best performance of the year in a shutout against the Canadiens? Your team has finally just won their second game of the year, and instead of trying to carry that momentum into a winning streak, you give a cold Hedberg his first start of the season? I know they need to give Brodeur more rest, but it simply was not the right time.

And Brodeur wasn’t the only noticeable absence last Saturday. Also scratched from the game against Buffalo was none other than the $100 million man himself, Ilya Kovalchuk. I’m sure many fans had the same reaction I did when Kovy didn’t show up for pregame warmups: The way this season has gone so far, he probably tore his ACL somehow. But that wasn’t the case. He was a healthy scratch. Johnny Mac had benched him.

Reports that have surfaced since allege that Kovalchuk was scratched because he was late for a mandatory team meeting. If that is the case, why on earth did MacLean find it necessary to make this a bigger story by not telling us what really happened?

I think it’s a good thing that Mac isn’t giving Ilya special treatment. But when the media asks why you sat out your best player, and you say, “That’s between him and I,” you have to realize that you’re inviting speculation about what’s really going on. The last thing MacLean’s players want to deal with is having to answer questions about whether or not there is a rift between their coach and one of their all-star teammates. But sure enough, that’s what they had to do.

Now in no way am I suggesting that MacLean should be fired. It is still too early to warrant that. Lou Lamoriello shrugged off the notion that Mac is on the hot seat by calling it “ridiculous.”

“You’re not going to win unless your best players – and this is not targeting any one or two – but your top players have to be your top players, at least 80 percent of them, night in and night out,” Lamoriello said. “And that’s what we have to get is that.”

You certainly can’t say it’s an unfair criticism. The all-stars on this team need to start playing like it. The rest of the team will follow suit. Seems like a pretty sound theory to me. But you can’t pep talk your way to wins. It’s time to see it on the ice.

Anyway, enough of the bad. It’s time to reward the good…

Max’s Three Stars of the Week

Third Star: G Martin Brodeur

OK, I know what you’re thinking: Umm Max, are you talking about the same Martin Brodeur who gave up 9 goals in 3 games this week? Yes, I do mean that one. If we’re calling a spade a spade here, then let’s just call the Devils’ recent defensive efforts really bad. Marty was under siege this past week, and did absolutely everything he could to keep the Devils in games. His performance Wednesday night in San Jose defied the box score. I have never seen a goaltender play so well and still give up 5 goals. The Devils could not stop the Sharks’ top line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau even a little – they accounted for all five strikes.

Second Star: D Olivier Magnan-Grenier

Another thing the box scores won’t show you is how well this rookie defenseman played in his first week in the NHL. He’s one of those players that doesn’t seem to do anything extraordinary, but does everything well. He has exhibited rock-solid instincts and seems to be able to move the puck as well as any of the blue-liners on the roster. Now that Matt Corrente has been sidelined with a fractured hand, Magnan figures to be an integral part of the Devils’ defense going forward.

First Star: C Dainus Zubrus

It’s back-to-back weeks for Zubie as my first star, although let’s face it, the competition was less than fierce this week. Dainus had an assist in each of the past three games and continued to mesh with linemates Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Despite how bleak the Devils current situation feels, this line seems poised to start scoring goals in bunches. The hope is that it starts sooner rather than later, because this team desperately needs something to start going right.

Follow Max on Twitter: @MaxH_WFAN