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With MacLean out in New Jersey, why Jacques Lemaire all over again?

The Devils firing of John MacLean didn’t come as too big a surprise to those following their situation. The team was bad, they were getting blown out, and they weren’t a threat to turn it around. The choice of having once-retired former coach Jacques Lemaire take over on an interim basis is a curious one though.

(Update: it certainly didn’t produce immediate results, as the Devils were humbled by the almost-as-bad Islanders by a score of 5-1 on Thursday.)

When MacLean was brought in, it was believed he’d get the Devils to slowly transition into a more attack-oriented team. A team that started off the year with major offensive weapons like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise and being supported by guys like Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Jason Arnott can make it so scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem. Instead, the team lost Parise to injury and it turned them into a one star team. Factor in numerous injuries to the defense and losing Martin Brodeur for up to ten games and you’ve got yourself a nightmare scenario, one that MacLean couldn’t figure out how to juggle correctly.

With Lemaire in charge once again, the Devils will go back to Lemaire’s trusty defensively-oriented system that relies heavily upon counter-attacking and creating turnovers in the neutral zone while preventing scoring opportunities from even developing by opponents. There’s also another motivation at work here.

What GM Lou Lamoriello is doing by having Lemaire take over is making accountability in all areas of the game a must and for the Devils, taking care of their own end has become as much of a problem as scoring goals has. Sure the Devils are 30th out of 30 teams in scoring, but they’re also 21st in goals allowed. Being poor defensively is unfamiliar territory for any Devils team and something that had to be driving Lamoriello nuts. Lemaire will fix that the way he knows he can the fastest by falling back on his trusty system.

But what of team captain Jamie Langenbrunner? Last season, Langenbrunner and Lemaire had their fair share of issues with each other and ultimately concluded with Langenbrunner brushing off the press when asked about their relationship. Having a team captain and a coach not getting along makes for a really awkward locker room.

With Lemaire coming back into the fold once again, is this Lamoriello’s way of pushing his captain’s buttons to get him to inspire the guys in the room or is it just a fact of the matter that’s brushed aside because Lemaire is Lou’s guy and that’s that? We’re betting on the latter with maybe a touch of the former. Either way, Langenbrunner has to feel like Lamoriello put a half-ton of coal in his stocking this year.

As always with the Devils, a coaching change comes with a certain amount of drama and this is no different. How this plays out the rest of the way for the team should prove to be fascinating to watch because if even Lemaire can’t get this crew turned around to at least being a more competitive team, someone’s going to have to answer to owner Jeff Vanderbeek and Lou Lamoriello is the guy that put together this salary cap-era disaster of a roster.

Goalie nods: Jones heating up, will start again for Sharks

Martin Jones, Brent Burns
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Martin Jones has rediscovered the form he showed this past spring.

Jones, who was arguably the Sharks’ MVP through their Stanley Cup Final run, will look to win his fourth straight start when when San Jose hosts Ottawa this evening.

It’s been a banner past couple of weeks for the 26-year-old. Things started with a 26-save shutout against New Jersey on Nov. 21 — from there, Jones won three of his next four starts, allowing just six goals over that span, to finish the month of November with a .924 save percentage.

On Friday, he kicked off Decmeber in similar style, making 31 saves in a tight 2-1 win over the Canadiens.

It’s a nice turnaround from the beginning of the season, when Jones was OK — but not great — and finished October at 4-3-0 with a .916 save percentage. Given how vital he is to the club’s success, it’s no coincidence San Jose has played well of late. The Sharks are 6-1 in their last seven and within one point of first-place Edmonton in the Pacific Division (the Sharks do have three games in hand, and could surpass the Oilers this evening).

For the Sens, Mike Condon gets the start in goal. Craig Anderson didn’t make the trip with Ottawa out west.

Elsewhere…

Devan Dubnyk makes career start No. 300 when the Wild take on the Leafs in Toronto. He’ll be up against Frederik Andersen, who projects to get a ton of work moving forward, given ex-backup Jhonas Enroth is now with the AHL Marlies.

— Tantalizing matchup brewing in Washington, as Braden Holtby and the Caps host Boston. Tuukka Rask, who has been busy lately, projects to get the nod as he was in the starter’s crease at the morning skate.

— The ‘Canes continue to roll with Cam Ward as they begin their three-game California trip in Anaheim. The Ducks will counter with John Gibson, after Jonathan Bernier was in for all eight goals in Sunday’s ugly loss to Calgary.

The Leafs need some wins, starting tonight against Minnesota

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Mitchell Marner #16, Auston Matthews #34, and Nikita Soshnikov #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a victory against the Vancouver Canucks in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent road trip to Western Canada. They beat the Oilers, lost to the Flames, then probably deserved better in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks.

But if these Leafs (10-9-5) want to stay in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule. Starting tonight against Minnesota, they play six of their next seven at home. Their only road game is Saturday in Boston.

Mike Babcock’s bunch entered the day six points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot. The coach liked how his charges played Saturday in Vancouver, where they outshot the Canucks, 40-24, but could get only get two pucks past Ryan Miller.

“I thought we played well,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to give Miller a lot of credit, I thought he did a real nice job for them and kind of held the fort there. I was pleased with our effort. You’d love to get the other point, sure, but that was a good game for our team. I thought we really pushed hard as the game went on.”

Tonight in Minnesota’s crease, the Leafs will see one of the hottest goalies in hockey. Devan Dubnyk is 10-6-3 with a .946 save percentage. He’s been the Wild’s MVP this season, and it’s not even a debate.

“He has given us a chance every night, he has been spectacular, especially late in games,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Toronto Star. “We play so many close games he has to make saves to get us to overtime or to seal the game. I know we don’t get us much press as the people up here (in Canada), but he’s been as good as any goalie in the league.”

It’ll be up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs to turn their solid puck-possession numbers into goals, while making sure not to give the Wild too many scoring chances the other way.

Defense has been an issue for Toronto this season. The running-and-gunning Buds have the third-worst goals-against average in the league (3.08), lower than only Dallas (3.22) and Arizona (3.16).

Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

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Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

But in many ways, it was exactly that.

Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

Tough times in Dallas.

The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

 

 

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

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That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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