November 11, 2010
I played for the University of Alaska Anchorage, which meant we were in the same division as Denver, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and a handful of other more-than-decent teams.
That meant we got out asses handed to us with regularity.
The year before I showed up as a freshman they went 1-32-1. (I committed to the school around the time they were 1-0-1.) You get the picture -- I've been on a losing team or two in my day.
When you become accustomed to losing -- and worse, when you expect to lose - watching your opponent take the lead feels hopeless. The "well, we're beaten" mentality becomes a stench more pungent than Black Panther cologne, and wafts of it fill the room during-between period silence.
When you get stuck in that mindset, it's only natural to go out and try too hard. You over-pursue pucks, make impatient decisions, and don't demonstrate trust in your teammates.
Those not-so-helpful coping mechanisms tend to result in a mishmash of compounded problems that result in ... oh, I dunno, let's say a 4-10-2 record to start the season with a max-cap team.
I'm sympathetic to the New Jersey Devils, because they're really not that bad of a team, and it's no fun when you're in tailspin like they are. But teams are sniffing out their vulnerability (it stings the nostrils), and know not to give up when they fall behind because the Devs are proving themselves eminently beatable. It's not like a decade ago where a New Jersey lead meant serious trouble -- teams are content to hang around and wait for the NHL's Plaxico Burress to shoot themselves in the leg.
They have too much talent to look this disjointed -- the wins would come if they would just settle down and demonstrate a little poise.
As Vince Lombardi said, "Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing," and the Devils are showing which of the two they're currently hooked on by forcing plays like a beer leaguer who thinks he's short on time. It reminds me of the worst teams I've been on - you get stuck in the wrong mindset and crumble when the games get close.
Over the past decade, the Detroit Red Wings have been the perfect example of the complete opposite of this -- trust and confidence pours over their bench in red and white; and thanks to that aura, opponents are on their heels before the puck drops.
Remember Tiger Woods in his prime rocking that red shirt? His competitors were just as likely to shank the ball into a parking lot as they were give him a legit run for his money, because they knew Tiger could close. It used to be the Devils in that Sunday red, but they're starting to look like the guy who needs to move everything into his left pocket.
When you demonstrate the consistent ability to be a self-leg-shooting team, it inspires confidence in teams that don't necessarily have it, which only makes things more difficult. The second New Jersey is pressed back these days, you can just smell the "well, we're beaten" cologne being re-applied throughout their bench and the panic button getting hammered.
Head coach John MacLean can still turn this team around, because they have the personnel to do it (unlike some other basement-dwelling teams).
The message he needs to send, to stop the over-pursuing of pucks and rushed decisions, isn't "try less hard" -- he just needs to preach patience.
Good teams -- again, I think of Mike Babcock's team - are where they need to be on the ice, willing to wait for their opportunities and pounce when they arrive. Right now New Jersey is chasing.
So this is a call for the New Jersey Devils to just chill out. You've got a good team. Relax and play your positions and let the success you can easily achieve with a roster like yours come naturally.
Watching you guys force it is painful right now.