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Devils replace MacLean behind bench with Lemaire

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- After 189 days on the job, John MacLean's tenure as head coach of the New Jersey Devils is finished.
With the team spiraling to the bottom  of the NHL standings and entering Thursday's game against the New York Islanders at Prudential Center on a three-game losing streak, Lou Lamoriello, the Devils GM, decided to fire MacLean. After 33 games, the Devils have just 20 points and nine wins.

Former coach Jacques Lamaire takes over the reins on an interim basis, beginning with Thursday night's game against the Islanders. It is the third time Lemaire has coached the Devils.
"Maybe we teased with signs at different times (to make a coaching change), but, as I've said, I take responsibility for waiting to try to get it to where it should be and under no set of circumstances should all this responsibility be on the coach," Lamoriello said. "Responsibility lies on the players and myself for what couldn't be done. Lately, our power play and penalty killing were good but our 5-on-5 play … for whatever reason. I called Jacques (Wednesday night) and had a conversation with him and asked him where his thoughts were and how he felt. He'll help whatever way he can."
It marks the third time Lemaire, 65, will be behind the bench for the Devils. His second stint was last season, when he led the team to their ninth Atlantic Division championship while reaching the 100-point mark for the 12th time in 15 full seasons. He resigned following the team's five-game setback to the Philadelphia Flyers in the quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I asked (Lemaire) to come back for the second half so we can find out who we are and where we're at," Lamoriello said. "I also felt that there is time to get back on track. He's totally committed and will be coming to stay to get the job done."
Beyond this season, however, it remains to be seen who will coach the Devils. But, Thursday night it will be Lemaire, aided by the assistant coaches -- Adam Oates and Larry Robinson -- who began the season in those roles.
After spending nine seasons as the head coach for the Minnesota Wild, where he compiled a 293-255-108 record, Lemaire rejoined the Devils on July 13, 2009. The Montreal native previously coached New Jersey from 1993-94 through 1997-98 and guided the club to a 199-122-57 ledger, five postseason appearances and the 1995 Stanley Cup.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, while saddened to see MacLean suffer as a result of a team collapse, feels Lemaire should offer immediate results.

"I think stability defensively is important," Brodeur said. "We're struggling offensively, but struggling defensively also and that's why we're last in the League. Jacques knows how to get his players to play, so we'll see the offense we can create. It's a familiar face coming back, so the period of adjustment shouldn't take to long."
The Devils are last in the League with a 1.73 goals-per game average and 26th with a 3.09 goals-against average. Despite the timing of it all, Brodeur feels that change might be good at this stage.
"It's exciting," he said. "When you see a defensive-minded coach come in, especially when we need to keep it out of our net a little bit and play better 5-on-5 play. Our power play and penalty killing the last 10 games has been good."
Despite firing MacLean, Lamoriello said Thursday that he still believes MacLean could be an influential coach. He said that MacLean would likely stay with the organization in a yet to be defined role.
"John is a professional and it's no secret John spent a lot of time with me in different capacities over the last few years so it wasn't easy on both sides, but he understood," Lamoriello said. "John is a class act in every way and a franchise and organizational person. We'll get together over the holidays and he'll be right back in work within the organization doing something. I do not feel his coaching career is over, if that's the career he wants to pursue.

"In my opinion, he's an outstanding coach but this is the profession we're in. For different reasons it happens, you see it everywhere. I take that responsibility standing here in trying to get it to work."
Fourth-year Devils forward David Clarkson, who also had MacLean as an assistant coach, was upset by the decision but realized something was eventually going to give.
"It's tough, you feel bad for Johnny," he said. "I had him a long time as an assistant coach and now as a head coach and around this time of the season … we weren't doing the job. It was a situation where something was going to happen, but you feel bad. You don't want to see that happen to anybody, especially the type of person he was. I had a lot of respect for him, I liked him and it's tough.
Clarkson also believes this type of change could create a spark.
"I think, at this point, anything can help," he said. "We don't have too much positive going on. Jacques is a really smart coach, he knows the game really well, so I'm sure there's little things he'll be trying to do to get us going and working again. Do I think Johnny was doing anything wrong? No. It's just the situation that happened."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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