The Bruins handed the Devils their fourth loss in six games on Sunday, and some people are already calling for coach John MacLean’s perfectly shaved head.
MacLean, ever the Devils loyalist, has been with the organization for more than 20 years as a player, assistant coach and now head coach. The Devils should certainly be concerned with their effort so far, but it’s much too soon to start panicking.
The real problem with the 1-4-1 Devils is not MacLean. The problem is that the Devils’ roster is not set. The Devils are still over the cap, and there are too many players who know that they could be shipped out at a moment’s notice.
While the players will never admit that the possibility of getting traded is affecting their play, it has to be in the back of their minds. The one player who’s actually been scoring goals is Ilya Kovalchuk, the one guy who isn’t at risk of being traded.
There’s also the fact that the Devils have a young lineup, with five rookies (two forwards and three defensemen). This is one reason why MacLean is a good fit for the Devils right now. MacLean coached most of these rookies in the Devils’ AHL affiliate last season and he knows which ones are ready to see time in the NHL.
Since the Devils will have to have a few rookie players on the team to stay under the cap, who better to take charge than the coach who knows them best? One of MacLean’s surprise roster picks, defenseman Matt Taormina, has grown exceptionally fast, setting up the winning overtime goal in Buffalo and scoring his first NHL goal against Colorado on Friday.
The only fault of MacLean at this point is that when it started to become obvious that the line combinations weren’t working, he should have changed them up. With three days off since their loss to the Bruins, MacLean is now taking the time to do that.
Once the Devils can solve their salary cap problems and find lines that work well together, the Devils will be back to being a Stanley Cup contender. There are 82 games in the regular season, and while six games can easily be the difference in whether or not a team makes it to the playoffs, it would be a severe overreaction to fire MacLean over four losses in October.