NEWARK, N.J. – Head coach Brent Sutter didn’t need to watch the videotapes of the last five games to discover why the New Jersey Devils are on their longest losing streak of the season.
The evidence has been there game after game. Passive play. Little defence. Lack of intensity. Too many shots allowed.
Put it together and it adds up to a five-game losing streak for the Atlantic Division-leading Devils at the worst possible time – with six games left in the regular season.
If the scenario sounds familiar, it is. The Devils stumbled into the playoffs last season and were eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers. The current five-game streak is the longest since last March.
“We can’t get into a comfort level,” Sutter said Tuesday after a hard 30-minute workout before the team left for a game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. “We can’t get into a comfort zone where you start taking things for granted and you get a little complacent and all of a sudden you get into some bad habits and that’s what has happened.”
When the Devils have been good this season, they have rolled four lines, played an uptempo game and scored goals. In the current slide, which was extended Monday night with an embarrassing 3-0 loss to the rival Rangers, the Devils have been outscored 16-6.
“We haven’t been playing good,” veteran centre John Madden said. “Anybody can watch us play hockey.
“We stink. We aren’t doing anything we did in the first 70 games. Nothing resembles our style of hockey. It’s just time, I won’t say to panic, but to figure out what is going on and get back to the way we were playing because in two weeks we’ll play our first playoff game.”
Sutter had a long team meeting before practice Tuesday and told the team point blank that the skid has to end now.
His practise was just as straightforward. It included a lot of aggressive forechecking, screening the goaltenders on shots and hard work in the corners. When a line messed up, it repeated the drill.
Sutter had been a lot more positive in discussing the losing streak, trusting that his players would rediscover their games. No more.
“Now it’s time,” Sutter said. “The foot is down.
“Enough is enough. We tried to do things that were appropriate, making sure they had their rest and things, but they have to use those things to their advantage. We need to start dealing with the issues, not that we haven’t been dealing with them. You got to understand this is the way things have to be done, and I am firm on it.”
As the words left Sutter’s mouth, his fingers pounded on the table in front of him for emphasis, even as he sat with a group of reporters. No doubt the players got a more animated version.
Goalie Martin Brodeur, who along with teammates was celebrating his record-setting 552nd career win two weeks ago, said the players understand that they have to get back to basics.
If they didn’t, all they had to do was watches videotapes of recent games. What stuck out in Brodeur’s mind was the number of Devils in the picture.
In good times, there were always four or five Devils on the screen.
“When we watched the tape today, sometimes we barely saw one guy,” Brodeur said. “It’s not good. Positioning is such an important thing.”
The Devils have run into some motivated opponents. Except for a loss to Boston, the other four games have been against teams desperately fighting to make the postseason.
The slide also has cut New Jersey’s division lead over Philadelphia from 11 points a few week ago to six heading into Wednesday nights games. The Flyers, who play at Toronto on Wednesday night, have seven games remaining.
“Right now we feel we have to have that urgency,” Brodeur said. “There are six games left and we don’t want to walk into the playoffs doubting ourselves.”
Sutter said that everyone understands what has to be done but there is no quick fix. It will come with hard work.
“The only way there is a solution is wins,” Sutter said. “That’s the solution.
“You have to win. And are we a long ways off from where we need to be? No, we are not, but we are far enough away that we are finding ways to lose games.”
Centre Bobby Holik said that players have to avoid trying to do too much.
“You just have to make the plays easier for your teammates,” he said. “Now more than ever, you have to play for your teammate, put him in position where he can do something with the puck and be successful.”