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What's wrong with the Devils?

As I wrote from the game last night, the Devils have rather quickly melted down to start this season, while the Rangers and Islanders look like teams that have built the right way -- the Devils' Way, in fact.

Lou Lamoriello built an empire in Jersey, starting in the 1980s when the team was saddled with the "Mickey Mouse" tag from Wayne Gretzky; the Devils, quite simply, changed the game, playing a strict system that nearly everyone tried to emulate and winning three Stanley Cups in a nine-year span.

But this season is a mess, traced back to owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek's goal of having a major star to fill vacant seats at the Prudential Center. Lamoriello went against the grain of 23 seasons of his system in pursuing Ilya Kovalchuk all summer -- along with Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder to fill slots on defense -- to remake a team that had been bounced in the first round of the postseason for three straight seasons.

The Devils team that played -- with passion for at least the third period, I'll admit -- in the Garden last night was the loosest, most disjointed Devils team anyone's seen around here in ages. They were beaten to pucks five-on-five, they could barely get inside the offensive zone on their first four power plays and their defense, one that featured three rookies, could not get the puck going in transition.

The Kovalchuk benching on Saturday was a strong move by John MacLean, who seemingly could get the boot any day now, amazingly. Interchangeable coaches is another aspect of Lamoriello's system, but even he's never fired a coach this early.

Zach Parise, perhaps the most dynamic American player in the league, looks lost. Ditto Travis Zajac. The Devils sold their souls for Kovalchuk, and it's hard to see how they can regain the form that's led them to a remarkable run of 13 straight seasons of 95 points or more.

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