The Devils season is over after last night’s loss to the Flyers.
When a team implodes like the Devils did, it’s easy to blame the coach for the failings of the team, but in this case, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire needs to a lot of the blame for yet another early playoff exit for New Jersey.
As great a coach as Lemaire is, he made quite a few mistakes that kept the Devils from advancing against a horribly depleted Flyers team.
The performance of the Devils isn’t entirely on Lemaire, but he made quite a few errors that certainly didn’t help things:
5. Lemaire mishandled personnel.
Lemaire created unnecessary personnel drama when he didn’t need to. From benching Jamie Langenbrunner for no real reason toward the end of the regular season to keeping healthy playoff veteran Jay Pandolfo off the ice during the post-season, Lemaire made some moves that seemed to upset players while not really improving anything for the Devils. All these moves did was raise questions, which the players (and Lemaire) had to then address to the media. It was a distraction with no upside.
4. Lemaire overworked Martin Brodeur.
Every season a Devils coach says he’s going to try and get goalie Martin Brodeur some rest during the season and every season Brodeur gets 70-something starts. Brodeur is no longer a young man. He needs to rest. Would Brodeur have looked sharper against Philadelphia with 10 or 20 less starts? I think it’s time for a Devils coach to test that hypothesis. More rest certainly couldn’t have hurt Brodeur, though.
3. Lemaire abandoned his coaching roots.
Despite his name being synonymous with it, Lemaire moved away from the trap this season. Instead, he tended to use a system of stretch passes designed to get the Devils quickly through the neutral zone. I didn’t see much trapping against the Flyers, nor much tight defense. Lemaire seemed more worried about putting up goals and less worried about defense. The Devils, and Lemaire, have always won on defensive patience, not offense. Lemaire seemed to have forgotten that if you keep a team off of the scoreboard, eventually a well-prepared team will find goals.
2. Lemaire leaned on Ilya Kovalchuk too much.
The Devils powerplay was awful against the Flyers (12.5%), despite being a respectable 18.7% in the regular season. Kovalchuk spent most Devils powerplays on the ice for the entire shift, working the point. The rest of the Devils seemed to spend a lot of time trying to set-up in the Flyers zone and feed Kovalchuk the puck. It’s certainly not a bad strategy, but once it proved it wasn’t working, Lemaire needed to try a different powerplay look. Why not play Kovalchuk lower? Or try someone else at the point? But to keep repeating a failing strategy seems kind of silly.
1. Lemaire lacked passion.
The fact that GM Lou Lamoriello had to come into the locker room after New Jersey’s game four loss, scream at both the players and the coaches, and then throw a jelly jar at the wall, says a lot about Lemaire’s intensity levels. Not only did Larmoiello not see fire out on the ice, but he didn’t see any coming from his coach. Basically, Lamoriello realized that if he didn’t come into the locker room to motivate the team, then no one was going to do it. Because if Lamoriello thought his coach was going to get his team in gear, why would he decide to come into the locker room to do the same thing?