by Patrick Hoffman on 02/12/11 at 06:00 PM ET
When the New Jersey Devils fired head coach John MacLean back in December, the team had hit rock bottom.
The Devils were last in the entire National Hockey League, not getting production from Illya Kovalchuk, not getting the goaltending they needed to succeed and more importantly, not playing typical Devils’ hockey.
Fast forward a month and half later and the Devils are playing some of their best hockey, this time under “new” head coach Jacques Lemaire. With their strong play of late, the team is now just 12 points back out of a playoff spot. Sure, it may still seem like a long shot but with the way that Lemaire has his team playing, one can certainly not count out the New Jersey Devils.
There are many reasons why this team is succeeding under Lemaire. For starters, Lemaire has them playing Devils’ hockey. The team is back to playing solid defensive hockey and has them playing well in tight-scoring games. He has them creating chances through turnovers and more importantly, has them capitalizing on their opportunities created from smart defensive hockey.
Another reason why the Devils’ are playing well is because Lemaire has gotten Kovalchuk to play well on both sides of the puck. After getting off to a horrendously slow start, Kovalchuk now has 19 goals and 19 assists for 38 points in 55 games. In his last two games, Kovalchuk has scored game winners against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the San Jose Sharks, proving to his hockey club and the rest of the NHL that he is one of the best when it comes to scoring big goals.
One last reason why the Devils are back on track is because Lemaire is making hockey fun for the team again. Lemaire has gotten this team believing itself and has made it fun to come the rink day in and day out. Sure, winning hockey games has a lot to do with that but Lemaire has created an environment that promotes better play, responsibility and playing the game the right way.
With all of that said, if the Devils manage to get into the playoffs or even come close to getting in, Lemaire should be considered for the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s best coach. What he has done for the Devils since joining the team in December is simply amazing and certainly deserves some recognition from the rest of the league.
What do you puckheads think?
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.