NEWARK, N.J. – Jacques Lemaire now knows how John MacLean felt coaching the underachieving New Jersey Devils.
Lemaire’s third stint behind the Devils’ bench got off to a very rough start Thursday night as Josh Bailey had two goals and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-1 victory over the Devils.
“It looked like they had lost their ability to play the game, which is very strange,” Lemaire said after watching the Devils lose their fourth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 10. “I have never seen this in the past. Never.”
The 65-year-old Lemaire was handed the Devils’ coaching job for the third time in his career hours earlier after MacLean was fired 33 games into his rookie season with New Jersey tied for the fewest points in the NHL and facing the prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
It didn’t take Lemaire long to find out what was wrong with the team that has won three Stanley Cups since 1995.
“There is one thing that we can take care of and that is we are going to work,” Lemaire said. “I felt and I could see that it was hard because they had something else, that (look of) defeat that they have right now. I am not a psychologist but I can see things, I feel things. I could feel it.”
The Islanders, who were tied for the worst record with New Jersey, scored three times in the opening 11 minutes with Bailey getting the first two and John Tavares adding the other.
Dwayne Roloson had 34 saves, and Frans Nielsen and Blake Comeau scored as the Islanders won their second in two nights and extended their points streak to four games (3-0-1).
“We knew about the change and we were just going to try to weather the storm,” Bailey said. “We’ve been focusing on what we need to do to be successful and getting a couple of early goals and having a good first period really helped out.”
Travis Zajac tallied for the Devils, who took over sole possession of last place in the league. They have been outscored 20-4 in the last four games and Martin Brodeur looked old and ordinary in giving up five goals on 14 shots in his 1,100 career game.
Lemaire, who retired after the Devils were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by Philadelphia, now has nowhere to take them but up.
He laughed about making the playoffs.
“Let’s start by winning a game,” he said. “Winning a game is possible.”
Bailey, who was recalled from Bridgeport of the AHL on Wednesday, almost single-handedly thwarted any lift the Devils may have got from the coaching change by scoring twice in the opening 5:39.
Bailey stole a cross-ice pass by New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner deep in the Devils’ zone and beat Brodeur with a backhander at 3:09 for his first goal in 14 NHL games.
“Josh has been excellent since he got back,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “He went down there with the right attitude and did the things we asked him to do. What we wanted him to do was have his game carry over when we brought him back and the last two nights he has done that.”
A little more than two minutes later, the 21-year-old collected the rebound of a power-play shot by Andrew MacDonald and swept the puck past Brodeur.
Tavares stretched the lead to three goals at the 11-minute mark, collecting a juicy rebound of a shot by Travis Hamoic and whipping it past Brodeur from the left circle.
A fan started chanting “Refund! Refund!” seconds later.
After showing life late in the first period, the Devils scored early in the second when Zajac put in the rebound of a spin-around shot by Patrik Elias.
New Jersey continued the pressure and had two power plays to get closer. Roloson stopped 15 of 16 shots in the period and Nielsen eventually stretched the lead back to three goals putting in the rebound of a short-handed breakaway by Bailey.
Comeau closed out the scoring early in the third period with a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle.
NOTES: Devils rookie forward Mattias Tedenby was scratched because of food poisoning. … Brodeur is 1-6-0 since returning from an elbow injury. … Islanders LW Matt Moulson took a big hit from Devils D Anton Volchenkov in the first period and didn’t return.