(AP) — Now both of the league’s worst teams have new coaches.
Jacques Lemaire begins his third stint behind the New Jersey Devils’ bench Thursday night after the firing of John MacLean, facing a New York Islanders team which switched coaches just over a month ago.
MacLean was let go Thursday just 33 games into his first season as an NHL coach, with New Jersey being one of the league’s biggest disappointments after winning Atlantic Division titles the last two seasons. The Devils (9-22-2) and the Islanders (7-18-6) are tied for the fewest points in the league.
“It’s a decision that certainly is not one that’s pleasant or we feel good about,” Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “But it’s a decision that, in my opinion, had to be made.”
In an effort to get things turned around, New Jersey is turning back to the 65-year-old Lemaire even though he had retired after leading the Devils to the playoffs last season. He also served as their coach for five seasons in the 1990s, guiding the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 1995.
The following season marks the last time New Jersey missed the playoffs, and it seems a longshot Lemaire can prevent that run from ending.
The Islanders, meanwhile, are just hoping to avoid a fourth straight last-place finish in the Atlantic.
“Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’ve been through that for a few years,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. “Us, it’s new to us. We’re looking at us more than anybody else right now.”
While New Jersey is looking to avoid a ninth loss in 10 games, New York has played better of late under coach Jack Capuano, who took over when Scott Gordon was fired Nov. 15.
After winning once in a 21-game span – a 2-0 victory over the Devils on Nov. 26 – the Islanders are 2-0-1 in their last three after John Tavares’ overtime goal was the difference in beating Tampa Bay 2-1 on Wednesday.
“The last three games have been something to build on,” said Tavares, who scored his first goal in 10 games. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep focused on that. We can’t get complacent at all. We know how tough it’s been for us the last month and a half. We have to move forward and get something going.”
Wednesday marked the Islanders’ first win in 19 games when failing to score first. New Jersey is 2-17-0 when it doesn’t score first and has a league-low 59 goals, the only team with fewer New York (67).
Despite the Islanders’ recent success, they have yet to bring any momentum away from Long Island. They’ve been outscored 47-15 in going 0-10-2 away from home since Oct. 23.
Problems on special teams have played a big part in that drought. New York is 0 for 24 on the power play in its last seven road games and has surrendered eight goals the last 27 times it’s been shorthanded (29.6 percent).
New Jersey was 10 for 27 (37.0 percent) on the power play and outscored the Islanders 26-8 while winning the last six meetings in Newark.
Ten of the Devils’ last 13 goals have been on the power play, but they’ve been outscored 34-14 while going 1-8-0 in December.
Brodeur is 1-5-0 with a 3.51 goals-against average since returning from an elbow injury.