Ok...I'm officially sounding the alarm. The Devils really didn't play badly tonight. But what difference does that make if they don't get the W and 2 points? None. And if last season taught us anything, it's that the Devils can't afford to fall too far back too early. And I'm afraid that's exactly what's happening...maybe not as hideously as last season, but the Devils are behind very soon. They entered tonight's game in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Now, I know it's a long season and there's still time for them to get into playoff position...but it's also a very short season when a team spends it trying to catch up.
But what could possibly be done to improve this situation? Like I mentioned above, the Devils aren't playing badly. So, is it DeBoer's system that's falling short? Are the Devils really just less talented than the majority of their opponents? What is the problem???
As I watched the game, I found myself wondering why there seemed to be almost no chemistry among any of the linemates. Such things as pretty plays, drop passes, and players sensing where their linemates are (without needing to slow down and look) have all been non-existent for the most part this season. And the answer probably has to do with the line shuffling and double shifting that's been going on. Many a fan had speculated that the constant shuffling of lines that took place under John MacLean last season was directly responsible for the team's lack of chemistry and subsequent lack of winning. Why do the lines need to be switched so much this season? I understand that the Devils have lost a few players due to injuries (most notably down the center), but can't someone else be called up/acquired/fill in and the team be done with it? I just don't get why there's a need for such inconsistency on a team that's been playing inconsistent at best. Last season there was actually a better excuse to shuffle lines and double shift players...the Devils were right up against the salary cap and couldn't afford to acquire or call up anyone else. This season, the Devils don't have that excuse.
One thing is for certain...this team needs to gel and fast.
And one more thing...maybe Marty could have used a few more practice sessions before being put into a game. I'm not blaming the entire loss on the goaltender, but from what I saw tonight, I think Hedberg has been playing at a much higher level than Marty. And before anyone condemns me for speaking blasphemously about Marty, let me just emphasize that I'm not saying he's bad. I'm simply saying that he's rusty and should have had more time to practice. He let in 5 goals on 23 shots...ok, I maybe I am saying he was bad..
The good news is the power play actually seems to be on its way to being the advantage it's meant to be rather than the albatross it's been. It went 2 for 3 tonight with Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias scoring the PP goals. Speaking of goals, David Clarkson scored the 3rd Devils goal going one on one with Toronto's goaltender. It was actually a really uncharacteristically nice play for Clarkson.
I've decided not to award any player with the MUD award tonight. No one player stood out as one that played so poorly as to deserve it. I kid you not, in a 5-3 loss to the Maple Leafs of all teams, I can't think of one Devil who was useless. It's frustrating, really. The Devils had swarmed the Leafs' net all night and had numerous scoring chances and were given their fair share of rebounds, but they repeatedly came up short. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...it's time for shooting practice.
And I think it's time for a shake up, as well. This team just can't seem to get it together. There isn't one person to blame, but there are a myriad of problems. Changing the coach never seems to work (unless the coach ends up being Jacques Lemaire), so I'm willing to give DeBoer a couple more weeks before I decide if he should be let go. But something's got to give now! This team needs a spark, a shakeup, a facelift. I think it's time for the Devils to package some veterans together and create a huge blockbuster trade for some quick, younger, proven players (in particular: a number one center, a puck moving defenseman and a goaltender - who will then become Marty's replacement when his contract expires at the end of this season). The time to act is now, and I can only hope that Lou has something big in the works.
Everyone knows that Marty holds the all-time career wins record with 625. Tonight's loss, however, puts him into a three way tie with Curtis Joseph and Gump Worsley for all-time career losses with 352. Of course Marty's played more games than either of the other two, so percentage-wise he hasn't performed as badly. Still, that's one record he'd probably rather not have attached to his name.