x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New Jersey Devils fall from grace but are rising again

The New Jersey Devils were the story of the summer as they signed free agent goalscorer Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year, US$100-million deal.

It is the tale of two seasons in New Jersey. The first one was horrific; the second stupendous. The Devils were the story of the summer as they signed free agent goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year, US$100-million (Dh367m) deal.

That set the stage for Stanley Cup aspirations as the traditional defensive juggernaut had added a game breaker.

But disaster struck. Zach Parise, the team leader and top-liner went down with a knee injury in the first week, and has not been seen since. Martin Brodeur, the goalie, battled injuries and was uncharacteristically inconsistent.

John MacLean, the rookie coach, tried to open things up, and it didn't work, and suddenly the Devils could not defend very well, either. Despite all their talent, the Devils were last in the league, by a long shot, and Kovalchuk was the biggest of busts with just a few paltry goals.

So, Lou Lamoriello, the general manager, did what he does best: he got rid of the coach and brought back Jacques Lemaire for a third time.

The turnaround was not immediate, as the Devils won just two of Lemaire's first eight games. The Devils looked like a certainty to be drafting first overall.

Then they started winning and Kovalchuk started scoring. After a 10-29-2 start, the Devils have gone an unfathomable 22-3-2. They probably have to go 11-3-0 during the rest of the season, or better, to make the play-offs. But suddenly, that seems very realistic.

 

sports@thenational.ae