Hello…is anyone home?

Okay I admit it, now the losing’s starting to bother me. Or specifically the team’s compete level which has been totally non existent tonight in Ottawa as they’re behind 3-0 and about to let Brian Elliott (yes, really) shut them out. This is one game I really thought they’d compete more considering they actually had two days off beforehand and had won two of three games prior. While I supported Jacques Lemaire‘s decision not to crack the whip after their wonderful performance in Long Island last week and you really can’t with the number of games this team’s played this month, they need at least a stern talking to at this point. The schedule shouldn’t be an issue when you have two days off beforehand and know you have to show up considering on deck is a trip to Buffalo in less than twenty-four hours.

That said, what is annoying me even more than all that at this point is Lemaire himself. I admit it, I wasn’t a fan of his hiring because I saw nothing during his tenure in Minnesota that suggested he’d changed his pre-lockout approach and adapted to the new NHL. Early on though with the team going great guns and young guys getting quality minutes I was saying, hey maybe he really did adapt after all and his issues in Minnesota were caused by lack of talent instead of stubborness. Clearly I was mistaken. He’s had the same problems with this team that he did with the ’96-98 teams that dissapointed.

For one, the overplaying of a washed-up checker (and the overall use of a no-talent checking line at the expense of players who can actually contribute at both ends). Then it was Bobby Carpenter, now it’s Jay Pandolfo. I thought maybe this organization had learned from the Brent Sutter debacle last year – well the one on-ice – when he had a checking line older then dirt but the only difference this year is John Madden‘s been replaced by Rob Niedermayer, who doesn’t even win faceoffs or compete as much as Madden. Lemaire’s response if you challenge him on the checking line, well Pittsburgh and Detroit use one. Difference being both actually use two-way players on their checking line, and it’s not at the expense of their other talented players.

Not to mention the whole Andrew Peters disaster, why this guy is allowed to continue to screw up is beyond me. He can’t play hockey, and can’t even keep his jersey long enough to fight which is supposedly why we got him to start with. Mark Fraser isn’t doing much these days, why not let him fight? He’s had plenty of experience at it in Lowell. Or call up some hungry youngster who’ll actually provide energy in that role. During his last tenure Lemaire infamously benched Patrik Elias for the immortal Scott Daniels, I can see him pulling something similar only this time with Peters over Nicklas Bergfors – who granted has been bad lately but maybe part of that is the coach roasting him over every little thing while Mike Mottau can basically cause a goal against him every night and never get castigated. Or Johnny Oduya and Brian Rolston can steal money and never a peep out of the coach about either one of them.

Yet all these issues are periphery to my main sticking point – the ridiculous overplaying of Martin Brodeur. Early in the season it seemed like that wasn’t going to be an issue either as Yann Danis looked good in two wins early in the season. Then late November in Dallas, Danis got pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in the first period. Though the goals weren’t really his fault it seemed like something changed and the coach once again became afraid to ever use the backup. Since that day, Brodeur has started thirty – yes thirty! – consecutive games and is now starting to show the strain as evidenced by his own up and down performances since New Year’s.

Nevermind that Danis actually picked up a win in relief of Brodeur in Atlanta and played good periods in his other appearances (Danis has actually come in for Marty four times within a short time span…I guess one period qualifies as enough rest in Lemaire’s book), gotta throw #30 out come hell or high water and no doubt he’ll be in net again tomorrow at Buffalo. This is a team that even now has a cushion as far as games in hand over the Penguins for the division, not to mention they got off so good early in the season there’s never been any reason to worry about even making the playoffs! Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war though. Obsessing over first place and home-ice is going to cost us again in April as we lose to another inferior team and Brodeur has a 2.5-3.2 GAA and sub .900 save percentage.

I thought Lemaire would have to adapt to win, and clearly the team itself has some issues. That might be the subject of my next blog after the expected raping in Buffalo tomorrow night. But let’s be honest, the team will be a lot better once all the hands get back on deck (as if we can actually ice a full roster before someone else goes down). Particuarly Elias and Paul Martin, who can’t get back fast enough now that the clock’s struck midnight on Andy Greene and with Mottau and Oduya flat-out stinking. However, first place and all the points we get between now and April 11 are going to mean absolutely nothing if this coach – who I still adore in spite of my frustrations with him – does not adapt.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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