Johan Hedberg was pulled for the second time in three games on Saturday night, having allowed five goals on 18 shots in a 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes but will be right back in net on Sunday. The loss, which dropped the Devils to No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, marks the seventh time in eight games the Devils have been defeated as an incredible start to the season has now been derailed.
At the heart of this collapse is a goaltending situation that has been mired in mediocrity since Martin Brodeur was lost to a back injury after a Feb. 21 win over the Capitals. Backup goaltender Johan Hedberg has made all eight starts in Brodeurs stead, going 1-6-1 and allowing four or more goals four times in that span, as the Devils have tumbled down the standings.
The Devils aren't placing the blame on Hedberg, however, with coach Pete DeBoer stating that pulling Hedberg on Saturday night was merely a chance to give the netminder some rest heading into Sunday's game against the Winnipeg Jets.
"When you look at our schedule we've got back-to-back (games). It made no sense to keep Heddy in there," DeBoer said, according to Tom Gulitti of the Fire & Ice Blog. "He's got to play again tomorrow. It's our fifth game this week, so it was a decision more about energy than anything."
DeBoer wasn't about to throw his goaltender under the bus either and once again stated the Devils have struggled as a team more than just in goal. For the season, Hedberg is 3-7-2 this season with a 3.08 goals-against average and .875 save percentage.
"We've got to get wins," said DeBoer. "I'm not going to kid you and tell you I'm not worried. It concerns me that we're not scoring. You look at the shots and the chances, and there's not a huge discrepancy from three weeks ago when we were winning games."
Hedberg's teammates also offered their support of their goaltender, stating the losses were on the team and not so much the netminder with players talking about the attitude and state of mind of the team as the snowball picks up speed headed downhill.
"The last four or five games we didn't play the way we're supposed to," said Ilya Kovalchuk. "He's making save after save, but then something is going to go in, so we've got to change our attitude and play how we used to play. We were the best defensive team in the league and now we give up four or five goals a game, so this can't happen."
DeBoer and Patrick Elias also discussed the possibilites of the Devils being a "fragile" team at the moment, with defensive and goaltending mistakes compounded by the Devils inability to score. Saturday's loss marked just the third time in eight games New Jersey has put more than three goals on the scoreboard, with both times previous resulting in the Devils earning a point.