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Isles spoil Lemaire's return by beating Devils 5-1

by Mike G. Morreale /

NEWARK, N.J. -- This was not what New Jersey General Manager Lou Lamoriello had in mind when he changed coaches on Thursday.

Lamoriello fired John MacLean earlier in the day and brought back Jacques Lemaire, who retired last summer after leading them to the Atlantic Division title. But Josh Bailey scored a twice in a three-goal first period and 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson made 34 saves to give the suddenly streaking New York Islanders a 5-1 victory.

The victory was the third for the Islanders, along with a shootout loss, in their last four games and moved them out of last place for the first time since last month.

"It was good to get the early goals I was pretty happy about it … I needed those to get the ball rolling again and we did a good job finding ways to score," said Bailey, who also had an assist for his first three points since being recalled from AHL Bridgeport on Wednesday. "I think we were going to try and whether the storm early on and just focus on what we needed to do to be successful. Having a good first period helped that a lot."

The Islanders were replaced in the cellar by the Devils -- a complete reversal from last season, when they were first at the Christmas break.

"When I was first behind the bench, I was looking at the players trying … not working as hard as I thought they would," Lemaire admitted. "They were trying and they looked like they lost their ability to play the game which is very strange. I have never seen this in the past, never."

The nine victories for the Devils through 34 games mark their lowest total since the 1983-84 season, when they were 7-25-2. They've been outscored 20-4 while losing their last four games and have won just once in their last nine -- a 3-0 victory against Phoenix on Dec. 17.

The Devils came out flat and the Islanders jumped on them for three goals in the first 11 minutes.

"Anytime (a new coach is hired), teams usually come out and play hard," said Islanders interim coach Jack Capuano, who got the job last month when Scott Gordon was fired. "For whatever reason, the first period was our best period and we only generate eight shots. But in the second and third, they were shot out of a cannon. They have big strong guys on their team and they controlled low play in our end and had chances. But even though we got doubled up in shots, and had one power-play to their four, we found a way to win -- and Rollie played great for us."

With his team floundering, Lamoriello reached out to Lemaire, who flew to New Jersey in the afternoon and arrived alongside assistant coaches Larry Robinson and Adam Oates prior to the opening faceoff -- only to see his team fall behind by three goals, forcing him to call his timeout.

After watching his old/new team's performance in the opening period, the 65-year-old Lemaire might have wanted to head back to the airport.

"At that timeout, I was also thinking, 'it's going to be rougher than I thought'," Lemaire said.

The Islanders, fresh off a 2-1 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, jumped in front when Bailey picked off an ill-advised pass across the slot by Jamie Langenbrunner, deked Martin Brodeur and lifted a backhander into the net at 3:09.

"I was trying to disguise and read (Langenbrunner's pass) and, sure enough, I was able to pick it off," said Bailey, who spent 11 games in the AHL after getting off to a slow start. "Sometimes those pucks will shoot off into the corner. I was lucky enough to backhand it home. I was just trying to move and go upstairs and it worked out."

Bailey made it 2-0 just 2:30 later when he outbattled a Devils defenseman in the slot and whacked in a power-play rebound.

Capuano has liked what he's seen in Bailey since he returned to the Isles.

"He's been excellent," Capuano said. "He went down (to Bridgeport) with the right attitude. He went down there and did the things we asked him to do. What we wanted to do when he came back was make certain his game carried over. For the last two nights, he's done that."

John Tavares, who got the winner against the Lightning, made it 3-0 at the 11-minute mark, racing around Dainius Zubrus and hammering home the rebound of Travis Hamonic's innocent-looking point shot for his 10th of the season.

Whatever Lemaire said to his players during the intermission must have worked, because they came out in the second period with far more energy than they had in the first.

"At intermission, we talked about working and we changed a little bit in the way we played and were on the puck and the same thing happened in the third," Lemaire said. "When you struggle like we struggle, you don't turn this around in a couple of shifts. It's going to take time, but I know the guys will come back, I can see it."

The Devils pared the margin to 3-1 just 1:21 into the period when Travis Zajac jammed home a rebound in the slot. Roloson stopped Patrik Elias' shot, but Zajac ripped the rebound past Roloson's stick.

New Jersey dominated play into the middle of the period and got a power-play when Zenon Konopka fired the puck into the crowd for a delay of game call at 9:31. But instead of getting closer, the Devils surrendered a backbreaking shorthanded goal when Bailey poked the puck past Ilya Kovalchuk at the left point and broke into the Devils' zone. Brodeur stopped his backhander, but Frans Nielsen alertly followed the play and slammed in the rebound at 10:43.

Roloson was the hero for the rest of the period -- the Devils outshot New York 16-3 in the middle period but couldn't beat him again. He also stopped all 12 shots he faced in the third period, while the Islanders scored on one of their three shots -- a laser by Blake Comeau at 3:15 from the top of the right circle.

Roloson, who was making his second start on consecutive nights, is now 2-6-2 all-time against the Devils. Brodeur fell to 44-25-6 in his career against the Islanders after stopping just nine of 14 shots.

"I wanted to play (against New Jersey)," Roloson said. "Age is totally irrelevant at this point. Look at Marty (Brodeur) … I'm not even close to where he is. Physically I feel good and mentally, great. We're battling through a little adversity and guys are mentally tough in here. We have guys blocking shots and getting pucks out when they have to late in the game. That builds winning teams and as long as we keep playing like that, we'll have success."

The Isles won without the services of leading goal-scorer Matt Moulson, who was rocked by a first-shift hit from Anton Volchenkov at center ice and left for good after playing just 1:43. Team officials said he was held out for precautionary reasons and will be re-evaluated on Friday.

Lemaire initially announced his retirement from coaching on April 26, following New Jersey's first-round loss to Philadelphia but remained on staff as a special assignment coach. His 460 games coached, 247 wins, 61 playoff games and 35 postseason wins with the Devils are tops in club history. He led New Jersey to its first Stanley Cup in 1995.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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