Hours after the resignation of coach Larry Robinson, the struggling New Jersey Devils try to refocus as they take on the archrival New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
General manager Lou Lamoriello will make his regular season debut as New Jersey's coach after Robinson announced he was stepping down Monday due to stress and "horrible headaches."
"A lot of things were getting to me. I want this team to be successful, but if I can't be at my best and it's bothering me healthwise, I can't do that," said Robinson, who leaves the team in the unfamiliar position of fourth place in the Atlantic Division.
The 54-year-old Robinson, who guided the Devils to the 2000 Stanley Cup, missed two games this month with flu and sinus problems. His health problems led to him undergo tests and a CAT scan, and he was told his symptoms were stress-related.
Robinson's departure is the latest chapter in his eventful time with the Devils. He also took New Jersey to the Cup finals in 2001, but Lamoriello fired him in early 2002 when the team struggled, a decision Lamoriello called "one of the tougher decisions I've ever had to make."
Later that season, Robinson returned to the team after assistant John Cunniff died of cancer, and was serving as a special assignment coach before being brought back to run the club when Pat Burns was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in a little more than a year.
Lamoriello will coach the Devils until a new coach can be found. He'll be making his second appearance on the Devils' bench, winning his only game during the 1988 playoffs against Boston, when Jim Schoenfeld was suspended one game for making disparaging remarks to referee Don Koharski.
The Devils allowed three third-period goals and lost 4-1 to Carolina on Saturday, their seventh loss in nine games. New Jersey's power play has gone 3-for-59 during that span.
The Devils have also lost four straight on the road, and have dropped three in a row to the Rangers for the first time since New York's Stanley Cup-winning season of 1993-94.
The Rangers will be trying to avoid a season high-tying third straight loss after falling 2-1 on Sunday to Colorado. Joe Sakic scored a pair of goals 19 seconds apart in the second period, and New York's Petr Prucha had his six-game goal streak snapped.
"They came in here and played a real good road game and got themselves a win," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We should've been the team that was playing 60 minutes much like the way we played the last 20. We'll have better nights than we had tonight. We'll win again."
Despite a resurgence that has them in first place in the Atlantic, the Rangers have trouble generating offense when Prucha and Jaromir Jagr don't score. The duo has 38 of the Rangers' 102 goals, while Michael Nylander and Martin Rucinsky are tied for third on the team with only eight.
New York's power play has also had problems of late, going 2-for-30 in the last five games.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 18): Devils - 33 points, 4th place, 11 PB, Atlantic Division. Rangers - 44 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Brian Gionta, 18 goals and 33 points; Gionta and Scott Gomez, 15 assists; Colin White, 35 PIM. Rangers - Jagr, 23 goals, 28 assists and 51 points; Michal Rozsival and Darius Kasparaitis, 42 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 18): Devils - Power play: 16.0 percent (31 for 193), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.5 percent (132 for 160), 15th. Rangers - Power play: 15.9 percent (32 for 201), 19th. Penalty killing: 87.1 percent (190 for 218), 2nd.
GOALTENDERS: Devils - Martin Brodeur (12-10-3, 3.01 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (2-3-2, 3.54). Rangers - Henrik Lundqvist
(12-5-3, 1 SO, 2.11); Kevin Weekes (8-5-1, 2.82).
SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 5; Rangers 3-2, SO. At New York, Prucha scored the winner, and Weekes made three saves during the shootout to lift the Rangers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devils - 5-8-2 on the road; Rangers - 10-4-2 at home.
- Associated Press