The New Jersey Devils returned from the Christmas break to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at the RBC Center in Raleigh, in a game that featured former Devils head coach John MacLean on the Hurricanes bench as an assistant coach. MacLean, fired by the Devils last December after just 33 games as the head coach, joined former Devils star Kirk Muller’s staff in Carolina on December 1.
Despite the somewhat juicy subplot of MacLean facing the Devils for the first time since his dismissal, the real story in Raleigh was, once again, the Devils perplexing penchant for allowing shorthanded goals. When Brandon Sutter scored in the first period, it marked the 11th shorthanded goal allowed by the Devils this season. By comparison, the next-worst total, shared by five clubs, is five. If the team’s shorthanded goal issue was a virus, it has now mutated into an epidemic, and so far, head coach Pete DeBoer has been content to simply stay the course, steadfastly refusing to make major changes on the power play. DeBoer has shot down inquiries regarding replacing Ilya Kovalchuk with another defenseman at the point, deflecting questions about his star sniper’s defensive blunders and pointing out that the second power play unit has been on the ice for several of the short handers allowed by the Devils.
Kovalchuk, who gets much, but shouldn’t get all, of the blame for the shorthanded goal situation, didn’t make his coach’s life any easier on Monday night, when a puck off his stick was picked up around center ice for a breakaway, giving the Hurricanes the lead when Sutter netted the short hander. Later, Kovalchuk’s poor pass to Adam Henrique sailed the length of the ice and into the Devils empty net, as embarrassing a play as can happen to an NHL star. To his credit, Kovalchuk took the blame for the loss (although he certainly wasn’t solely at fault) and for the lack of production on the power play, telling the Bergen Record:
“That’s unacceptable. I don’t how many shorthanded goals we give up already. I think more than we’ve scored on the power play. I’ve got to make better decisions. I can’t take that risk anymore. It’s every time we make a mistake it’s in our net. I have to make a better decision than that.”
DeBoer echoed Kovalchuk, but offered no potential solutions for the power play situation, which is becoming more critical each game.
“Sure, it’s deflating,” DeBoer said. “Obviously, it’s an issue. We gave up another one tonight.”
They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Coach DeBoer and the entire squad have admitted that the team has a real issue when they’re on the power play. Step two is fixing it.
- Defenseman Adam Larsson has returned to the team after missing the last two games while attending his grandmother’s funeral in Sweden.
- Defenseman Henrik Tallinder skated in practice on Tuesday and could possibly play Wednesday night vs. Buffalo.
- Center Ryan Carter will not be suspended for his hit on Carolina’s Jaroslav Spacek. Carter received a boarding and game misconduct penalty after the hit.