TORONTO - For New Jersey Devils head coach John MacLean it's been a tough start to his rookie season behind an NHL bench.
MacLean took over a team that hasn't missed the playoffs since 1996 and won the Atlantic Division last season with 103 points. But after a 3-1 loss Thursday to the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Devils sat just one point up on the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers, who were tied for last overall.
Needless to say, MacLean is on the hot seat. He knows his team must be better or he's likely out of a job.
"You always have ideas and you always keep trying, you don't give up, you keep plugging away," MacLean said, when asked about getting his team going. "As difficult as it is sometimes you have to get through it. And we're going to keep getting prepared and keep trying until we get this thing right."
While the days of the Devils shutting opponents down with suffocating defence appear to be over, what has surprised all watching this season has been the team's near total inability to score. The Devils are last overall in the NHL, averaging less than two goals per game.
Assistant captain Patrik Elias said there haven't been any changes in systems this season, which means execution is the problem. But star sniper and off-season mega-signing Ilya Kovalchuk believes the team's mentality must change.
"We're just sitting back waiting, waiting for them…we just don't want to get scored on," said the six-time 40-goal scorer. "That's our mentality right now and I think that's wrong, we need to change something.
"As soon as we get a couple goals against we start playing, we need to be like that right from the start."
Reports in the New Jersey media claim Devils GM Lou Lamoriello will re-evaluate his team after the 20-game mark, which coincides with the end of the club's current road trip.
Lamoriello has a penchant for making bold moves when it comes to his coaches, even putting himself behind the bench late in the season when he felt it necessary.
Firing MacLean, though, would be a hard decision for Lamoriello considering MacLean has been with the team as a player or coach for 20 of the past 27 years. He's the team's all-time leading goal-scorer and was a Devils assistant coach for six seasons before taking over the reins of their American Hockey League affiliate in Lowell last season.
Whether a coaching change is in the offing or not, the Devils, who held a players-only meeting immediately following the game, are standing by their coach.
"We're not looking around to place the blame anywhere but in this room," said longtime New Jersey blue-liner Colin White.