After the Devils loss to the Flyers this postseason, the team searched for answers to explain yet another first round exit. Jamie Langenbrunner came out to the media, criticizing former coach Jacques Lemaire for his decisions throughout the season. Even Brian Gionta, a former Devil, weighed in with his opinion.
In an article by Star-Ledger beat reporter Rich Chere, Lemaire defended his decisions during the regular season and playoffs this season. There were many things the coach addressed, but I’d like to take a look at a few quotes relating to several posts I’ve wrote about on the blog the past few weeks.
Issue 1: Line Juggling
One of the criticisms leveled at Lemaire this past season was his constant line-juggling. I addressed the coach’s decision to break up the ZZ Pops line, but Lemaire juggled more lines than the ZZ Pops line. Lemaire moved several players around, working for the optimal lineup against a given team. As Lemaire said in the article
“I look at the teams still in the playoffs right now. They match lines. I don’t see why we would be so special that we don’t have to match lines,” Lemaire said.
“As far as switching the players on lines, Scotty Bowman has been known as a great coach and he moved players around a lot. There are a lot of coaches who move players around when things aren’t going well or playing against certain teams. I’ve done it my whole career. I don’t think it’s an issue. It could be an issue if you’re not good enough and you need to play with certain guys to get better. Then, for that particular guy, it would be an issue.”
Hockey coaches have to switch lines. In year’s past, Brent Sutter would use the Devils’ third line to match against the team’s first line. If a coach doesn’t change lines and match up with the other team, they don’t give themselves the optimal lineup out on the ice. But I don’t agree with the constant line-juggling this season. The coach had a dynamite first line, one that could easily lead the team in scoring. They also brought energy and talent to the ice. By breaking them up, Lemaire eliminated one of better scoring lines in the entire league.
When asked about the decision to break up the ZZ Pops line, Lemaire said
“I try to get the best out of players. Sometimes, yes, I did put guys with certain other guys so they play better,” Lemaire said, “but I have to think about the team and what is good for the team. I’m happy with the way I’ve done things. No regrets. I’ve always done this and the success was there.”
I understand Lemaire’s idea here – spread the scoring, maybe allow for some other players to get going. But when the team needed offense or a spark, the ZZ Pops line should have played together. There was no need to continually switch those players around. We all know they played well together, and I believe the line should have been kept together, giving the Devils their best offensive line (and one of the better defensive lines as well).
For the rest of my reaction to the article, continue reading after the jump!