NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The New Jersey Devils fired rookie coach John MacLean on Thursday and brought back Jacques Lemaire to replace him.
The Devils have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL this season. New Jersey, which has not missed the playoffs since 1997, is tied with the New York Islanders for the fewest points in the league with 20 in 33 games (9-22-2). Their 59 goals also are the fewest.
Lemaire is expected to coach the team Thursday night against the Islanders.
"It's a decision that certainly is not one that's pleasant or we feel good about," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "But it's a decision that, in my opinion, had to be made."
Lamoriello made the decision two days after the Devils dropped a 5-1 decision to Washington for their third straight loss and eight in nine games this month. The Devils have been outscored 15-3 in the last three games.
"I take responsibility for waiting and trying to get it to where it should have been," Lamoriello said. "Under no set of circumstances should all of this responsibility be placed on (MacLean). The responsibility lies on the players and myself for what couldn't be done. Unfortunately, we just weren't getting it done."
A perennial contender in the Eastern Conference, the Devils were expected to be among the leaders again this season after re-signing All-Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100 million contract in the offseason.
Kovalchuk, however, has been a major disappointment with eight goals in 32 games. He was even benched a game by MacLean for undisclosed reasons.
The team also has been devastated by injuries to high-scoring left wing Zach Parise (knee), goaltender Martin Brodeur (elbow) and others in the supporting cast. Brodeur is back in the lineup, but Parise is not expected back until February.
Not only is the goal-scoring down but the defense has struggled. Considered among the best in the league for more than 15 years, it has allowed 103 goals to rank in the bottom third.
The 65-year-old Lemaire retired after the Devils were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season. This will be his third stint as New Jersey's coach and he will finish the season. He guided the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 1995.
One of the Devils' all-time top scorers, MacLean coached the franchise's top minor league team at Lowell (AHL) before replacing Lemaire this season. He had been a Devils assistant coach for seven years before going to Lowell.