Home > Season Recap > The 2010-2011 Season Review: An Overview of Failure

The 2010-2011 Season Review: An Overview of Failure

The New Jersey Devils season can only be described as a roller coaster of emotions. It began with excited and raised expectations, with a possible Cup run dancing in the heads of fans and analysts alike. But that quickly faded as the team slogged through a miserable first half of the season. The team did turn it around, ripping off over 20 wins in a wild second half comeback. The effort fell short, however, as the Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Let’s break down the season, phase by phase, in our overview of the Devils 2010-2011 season.

Everything was all laughs before the season started for the Devils. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Offseason – Heightened Expectations

The offseason brought angst, anger and excitement out of the Devils. It began early, with the team bringing back Jason Arnott to fill the second-line center hole. General manager Lou Lamoriello opened the checkbook this summer, filling in his depleted blue line with defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov.  The shopping wasn’t done, as Lamoriello and owner Jeff Vanderbeek went after their crown jewel – Ilya Kovalchuk.

We all know about “The Kovalchuk Saga” this summer. There’s no reason to regurgitate the plethora of summer issues here. Despite several difficulties with denied contracts and “circumvention of the cap,” the Devils and Kovalchuk were finally united in September. Bringing in a potential 40-goal scorer to team up with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac had fans and analysts salivating. The Devils looked like a team with the potential to light the lamp consistently, something that’s always plagued them.

The organization also went with ex-player John MacLean as its newest coach. In one season with the Lowell Devils, MacLean led the AHL-affiliate to a postseason appearance. He promised to stress puck possession and push for a more up-tempo attack. With assistants Adam Oates and Larry Robinson, he seemed to fill out his bench with needed experience.

The moves may not deliver a Stanley Cup to Newark, but the franchise seemed set to continue their stellar play and make a serious run at the Cup.

The Season, Part 1: A Lesson In Disappointment

How quickly the early-season enthusiasm took a turn for the worse. I pinpoint the positive vibes ending in the first period of the Devils first game against the season, against the Dallas Stars. The Devils “Lefty Line” of Parise, Zajac and Kovalchuk already struck for two goals. They threatened to push the lead to three, but Kovalchuk hit a post. It seemed that clang off the iron changed the entire course of the season. New Jersey lost their opener, 4-3, in overtime. They’d win only three times in 11 October games, allowing four-plus goals in three of those losses.

The early-season struggles continued well into November and December. The team’s defense play looked atrocious. Forwards didn’t backcheck, defenders didn’t cover passing lanes, and the goalies were left to dry on a nightly basis. Compounding their swiss cheese defense was a complete inability to score goals. Nobody could find the back of the net, and players like Kovalchuk suffered through career-worst slumps.

Injuries played a major role as well. Parise went down with a torn meniscus on October 30 against the Los Angeles Kings, effectively ending his season. Martin Brodeur battled a bruise on his elbow for close to a month, taking extended breaks. Losing one of the top scorers and their top goalie did nothing for a team searching for positives.

With the Devils sitting at 9-22-2 on December 21, Lamoriello decided his experiment with MacLean was over. He fired the first year coach, replacing him with Jacques Lemaire. The former coach, who retired last April, entered on an interim basis and immediately lost his first three games. But he worked hard to get the team back to basics, and they entered the All-Star Break on a 6-1-1 run.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored several game-winners during the Devils' wild second-half run. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Season, Part 2: A Wild Ride

Before the All-Star break, the Devils showed signs of a rebirth. Lemaire improved the team’s overall play, and they responded by winning four straight games. They entered the break on a 6-1-1 record, a great feat considering the miserable first half. The break did nothing to slow them down. The Devils continued their hot streak out of the break, losing once in the month of February. As the wins piled up, the team moved out of the league basement and climbed – slowly – up the standings.

Nobody thought the Devils could move into playoff contention. But the team did just that, moving within six points of the eighth seed with 12 games left. A 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators signaled an end to their hot play, sending the Devils into a 1-4-1 slide that ended their playoff hopes. The Montreal Canadiens officially eliminated them on April 2, beating New Jersey 3-1 at the Prudential Center.

The season ended as it started – with disappointment. Despite winning their final game, Lemaire announced he would not return next season. The architect of the second half surge wanted to retire, and would leave on a high note.

At Season’s End: An Overview of Failure

It’s tough to see the positives with the Devils missing the playoffs. The second half run was a wild, exciting ride. But for an organization that prides itself on placing a consistent winner on the ice, this season looks like a failure. The overall goal of the playoffs didn’t happen, and many of the players admitted that failure.

Yet, the season wasn’t a complete failure. Several AHL players – Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson and Mark Fayne, to name a few – morphed from untrained rookies to serviceable NHLers during the season. Kovalchuk turned his season around, cracking the 30-goal plateau. Brodeur returned to a Vezina-level of play, and the team returned to Devils-style hockey.

So while other teams celebrate playoff success and awards won, the Devils sit with a bad taste in their mouths. They failed this season, falling short of expectations.

Ed. Note: First off, let me say welcome back to all those who used to read the site regularly. With blogging full time at SB Nation and Inside Hockey, The Devils’ Den was left in the dust a bit. But it’s back and, in the coming future, will hopefully be better than ever.

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