It was the type of game Jacques Lemaire’s teams usually win, not lose.
Yet on Sunday, it was the New Jersey Devils who were stifled defensively, out-worked for the puck and back on their heels in a 2-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
“We had a hard time making a play,” said Lemaire. “We were hitting a leg or a stick. Our focus wasn’t there, our legs weren’t there. Maybe we felt that because we were playing a team that doesn’t win a lot of games, we could just go through the motions. But we’ve talked about this all year, to win games you have to work.”
The Devils seemed to lack work ethic on the night, getting out-shot 35-22 in the contest. It was almost as if they had little left in the tank after three games on a Western swing. After the first period, they seemed disinterested and the Oilers took control of the play.
“It’s not a long road trip,” said Lemaire. “It’s only five days. I’ve been on the road for a month before. I know I’m not the one playing the games, but still.”
Had it not been for Martin Brodeur, the issue would not have been in doubt heading into the third period. After having a relatively quiet first period, where he saw just three shots, the Devils goaltender was kept busy in the second and third period facing 16 shots in each frame.
“He played really well,” Lemaire said. “We’re lucky we had him, because it could have been five, six, seven goals. It wasn’t just our defence that was weak. We turned the puck over in the neutral zone, we turned it over in their zone too much. When you give up 35 shots to a team and you only are able to get 20, you have to do better than this.”
Gilbert Brule, on a slick tip in front, and Marc Pouliot, with a wrist shot from the slot, were able to beat Brodeur.
It was all the Oilers would need as Jeff Deslauriers collected his third shutout of the season. His toughest save came on Ilya Kovalchuk, who had a breakaway in the third period, but was denied with his team down just one goal.
‘We were just bad’
“I don’t know what the reason was, but especially in the first 40 minutes we were just bad,” said Devils centre Dainius Zubrus. “They were out-skating us, we weren’t good on the forecheck, we weren’t creating anything, just throwing the pucks away. They were better than us. We had a few chances in the third, their goalie made a few saves, but that was nowhere good enough to win a hockey game.”
It was a surprising result, considering the Devils are in the top half of the Eastern Conference standings, while the Oilers are dead last in the league. Yet since the trade deadline when the Oilers got younger and faster, the club has been playing with more enthusiasm, something which seemed to catch the Devils off guard.
“This is a tough game to look back on,” Zubrus said. “We got out-worked and there isn’t a lot more to say.”