The start of the Devils' practice today at Prudential Center was delayed for 30 minutes while head coach Brent Sutter held a meeting with his team.
There was some video review and talk of technical adjustments, but mostly it was Sutter telling his players that it's time for them to turn in around. They have lost five in a row and have six regular season games left to back on track for the playoffs, including a date with the red-hot Penguins in Pittsburgh Wendesday night.
"I've been pretty positive through this, trusting the group that they're going to get through it." Sutter said. "But now it's time. The foot is down. I mean it's time. Enough is enough. We tried to do things that we thought were appropriate with making sure they have their rest...but they've got to use all of those things to their advantage.
"We need to start dealing with the issues here. Not that we haven't been dealing with them, but we've got to understand this is the way it's got to be done and I'm firm on it. It's just not myself. Lou (Lamoriello) and I are on the same page on this and we're both firm on this is the way it has to get done and we're expecting the players to do it. It has to be done. We have to get through it and we have to work through it."
But, it's not like Sutter can just snap his fingers and make everyone start playing well again right away.
"It's not something that all of the sudden it's going to turn like that," Sutter said. "It's going to be a process now to get it back. That's why we have to work on that process. I've been through situations like this before as a player. I've been through situations like this before as a coach and there's nothing easy about it. There's no easy way. You've got to really put your head to the grindstone here and get down to it. Everyone is aware of it. The players are aware of it. They see it and they know it. And as coaches we're doing what we can to help them rectify it. And, again, Lou has been tremendously supportive of what we have to do.
"Yet, we have to do it. It has to get done."
According to Sutter, this was not a meeting of give and take where the coaches and players shared opinions. It was the head coach laying it out for his players.
"It's a message from me." he said. "The message is very clear that this is the way it has to be done. Sometimes it's a hard thing to hear, but it's facts, it's the truth and it has to be done."
Sutter has often said that he trusts this group of players. They've overcome a lot already this season with the slew of injuries they had early in the season, including the loss of Martin Brodeur for 50 games. But, though Sutter reiterated that he has trust in the group, he also felt the need to push them.
"Through it all you do trust the group. You have confidence and faith in the group," Sutter said. "Yet, when you start seeing things that shouldn't be happening, you have to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, whatever level that sometimes happens in, now the coach has to step down here. Does it say that I'm losing trust? No it's not. All it's saying is, 'Listen, this is the way it's got to be done and everybody has to buy in to make sure it gets done.
"The thing about it is, yes it's coming for me, but Lou feels the very same way I do about this that this is the way we've got to get out of this. But it's going to be the accountability of the players. They have to figure it out."
While there was talk about the gap between forwards and defensemen being too big and the importance of working as a unit of five on the ice, the biggest thing Sutter stressed systematically was the team's loss of aggression.
"This is the thing I said last night: we can't get into a comfort level," Sutter said. "We can't get into comfort zone where you start taking some things for granted and you get a little complacency because now all of the sudden you're starting to do some bad habits. That's what's happened. We're allowing habits that we can't let happen into our game and part of it is because we are too passive. We're not playing that up-tempo game that we like to play."
That's why several of the drills today were one-on-one battles and rushes that required being aggressive and physical.
Sutter said he is considering some lineup changes and adjustments to lines, but would talk about it with Lamoriello later today.
"I haven't decided that yet," Sutter said. "Lou and I will talk about that tonight and tomorrow morning and make a decision that tomorrow."
But it didn't sound like Sutter was looking for answers in some lineup changes.
"It's not that you're sitting here and saying, geez, you need a magic wand to figure this out," Sutter said. "It's pretty simple what our issues are. It's just getting them rectified. The only way you correct the problem is making sure now you say, 'OK, let's get everyone committed. Let's get this resolved.' Let's all look in the mirror and say, 'What are our issues we have to deal with? And let's start getting things back.'"