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Talented Devils not putting it together on the ice

by Dave Lozo
NEWARK, N.J. -- What is wrong with the New Jersey Devils? Much like a book's prologue and epilogue, they are not even close to being on the same page.

After another disjointed performance in a 4-1 home loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, the Devils sit at 1-4-1 and last in the Eastern Conference. The Devils' three points in six games marks their worst six-game start to a season since 1983-84, when they opened 1-5 (and eventually 1-12) in their second season in New Jersey.

But this is no longer a young franchise just trying to gain traction in the League. These Devils are perennial playoff participants who have a future Hall-of-Fame goaltender in Martin Brodeur and two world-class offensive threats in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. There's scoring depth with the likes of Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias lurking on different lines. There's leadership with Jason Arnott and captain Jamie Langenbrunner. There's defensive experience with Colin White and Henrik Tallinder.

There's enough talent in the Devils' locker room to make most teams turn green with envy. But that talent is still figuring out how to work together.

"I'd say the main thing is we're not all on the same page," Langenbrunner said. "We're going in different directions. We're not playing the system we need to play. We're trying to find shortcuts at the wrong times. You have to play together. You have to play as a five-man unit and work with each other. We're just not doing a good job of that."

The lack of cohesion was there for all to see during the Bruins' four-goal second period that was mostly the result of poor communication and almost zero chemistry in both zones. The Devils committed 11 giveaways in the game, including one by Brodeur that led to Milan Lucic's goal that capped the scoring. The inability of the Devils to clear their zone during the second period left them scrambling and chasing and watching pucks hit the back of their net.

The offense that was expected to be there has also been non-existent. The Devils have just 10 goals in 6 games and 5 goals in their past 4 games.

Problems like these come with the territory of having so many new faces on this year's roster getting familiar with all the mainstays. Those problems can be compounded when five rookies make their way into the lineup, as was the case Friday night with forwards Jacob Josefson and Tim Sestito along with defensemen Alexander Urbom, Matt Corrente and Matt Taormina.

Why so many rookies? The Devils are facing a salary-cap crunch for one, but injuries to key veterans Brian Rolston, Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador have exacerbated all of the aforementioned problems.

Elias, the Devils' all-time leading scorer, said it wasn't the fault of the rookies on Friday.

"Those guys played really good," Elias said. "All the young guys today played well."

Brodeur agreed.

"We're concerned for our rookies," Brodeur said. "They're growing up, they're getting their feet wet. But veterans are not getting the job done."

It all keeps coming back to a group of guys who are still getting to know each other professionally and personally. There are nine players on the current roster who didn't start last season with the Devils and the lack of a comfort level has shown in the early stages of this season. Passes aren’t clicking. Miscommunication is resulting in pucks being left behind. Opportunities to clear the puck are instead leading to giveaways and scoring chances.

The Devils have four days before their next game, which will take place in Montreal. That's plenty of time for everyone to reflect on these first six games, according to Langenbrunner.

"You can use this one of two ways. You can feel sorry for yourself and start pointing fingers and look for excuses or you can look in the mirror and get yourself better and get ready to play," Langenbrunner said. "It's a long year. I guess the break for us couldn't come at a better time, a few days without a game. We can get ourselves going in the right direction and playing on the same page whereas we're kind of all over the map as far as playing for each other. It's tough to play that way."

Kovalchuk sees it as a chance to find the chemistry that was there in the exhibition season.

"We've got a couple days, and Monday (at practice), we have to show up for work and start building chemistry," Kovalchuk said. "It seems like that (there's no chemistry), but it was totally different in the preseason when we played well. I don't know what's happened. Little bounces aren't going our way right now. We just need to stick together and think about the big picture. We've got a lot of games in front of us and no one's going to feel sorry for us."

That includes Devils coach John MacLean, who admits his team lacks chemistry right now, but believes some guys in his locker room spent too much time buying into the hype around the team.

"Chemistry, to a certain extent. I guess that's the easy way out," MacLean said. "Sometimes I think we read how we are on paper and teams don't really care. For this team to win, it's not going to take one or two guys. It's going to take all 20 guys night in and night out, and that's no different that any other team in the National Hockey League."

The talent is there in New Jersey, so it should just be a matter of hard work and time before it starts clicking.

"We have to find a way to fight through it," Kovalchuk said. "We can't point fingers at anybody. Just work together. It happens sometimes. We're still just a couple points away from the teams in the playoffs. We just have to take it one game at a time and go from there."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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