Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Something's Rotten In Swamp

The Devils entered this season with the usual lofty expectations from general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Larry Robinson. Despite losing Scott Stevens to retirement and Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim, New Jersey was expected to still contend.

Those goals are being put to the test so far. With a 4-1 loss to the Islanders at Continental Airlines Arena Tuesday night, it was the fourth straight game New Jersey failed to come away with two points (0-2-2).

Fifteen games have been played and the Devils find themselves in the unfamiliar position of looking up at the standings. Their 6-7-2 mark ties them for third in the Atlantic with the Islanders, just one point ahead of the last place Penguins.

Though they trail the first place Flyers and Rangers by just five points, it seems like more because this team is having trouble scoring goals. Already without top scorer Patrik Elias due to hepatitis, if you were Robinson, would you healthy scratch your second leading scorer Alexander Mogilny in favor of enforcer Darren Langdon? Langdon saw the ice for one shift. In a grand total of six seconds, he was on for the first goal against when Mattias Weinhandl redirected a Brad Lukowich shot past Scott Clemmensen. As the majority of the Islanders celebrated, Langdon dropped the gloves with goon Eric Godard. The result was a draw. It was the last time he saw the ice.

Adding further insult, rookie Cam Janssen took five shifts (1:22) and was a minus-two, basically relegating Robinson to playing seven forwards.

If these moves made sense when the only player who's been consistently finishing is top scorer Brian Gionta (9-5-14), then maybe I'm not drinking the same Kool Aid as the coach.

Nobody doubts what Robinson's motive was behind the benching. But with the well running dry up front, wouldn't it have been wiser to stick to the original gameplan and play Mogilny on the fourth line with Erik Rasmussen and Grant Marshall? Almost two weeks ago in a win over Buffalo, Robinson tried that combo and was rewarded with a goal from Rasmussen.

Granted, Mogilny hasn't been playing inspired hockey. But at least he's dangerous enough to create scoring chances. If he was so bad in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers, then why was he the first shooter Robinson sent out there after hardly seeing the ice in the third?

Mogilny's 13 points (5-8-13) are better than Scott Gomez' output (3-5-8). Mogilny, 36, isn't getting any younger and his hip might be acting up. But at least he's visible on there. What's the 25-year-old Gomez' excuse for his lackluster play? Not only did the playmaking center enter with only two less goals than assists but he also was a minus-eight, easily the team's worst forward.

So, do you think Gomez came with a better effort? Instead, rookie Zach Parise was more noticeable in his shifts, at least creating some opportunities.

It's never a good sign when your most talented players are being outperformed by grinders such as Marshall, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Jamie Langenbrunner and Rasmussen. Paging Viktor Kozlov.

What's alarming for the Devils is that this has become a common occurrence. It must change starting Friday at Washington or maybe another high priced player will find themselves watching from upstairs.

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