<
>

Devils play with just 15 skaters, lose again

Like the local atom team whose players end up going to a birthday party instead of the Saturday morning game to leave the squad a little short of personnel, the New Jersey Devils ended up looking decidedly youth league in Monday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with just 15 skaters.

It was yet another embarrassing turn for one of the NHL's allegedly elite franchises.

A combination of injuries to Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston, a one-game suspension to Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and chronic salary cap mismanagement by the Devils exacerbated by Ilya Kovalchuk's 15-year, $100 million contract meant the Devils were forced to play with three fewer skaters than the league rules call for in their Columbus Day tilt against the Pens.

A league source told ESPN.com the league requires that teams ice lineups of 18 skaters and two goaltenders, but can ice fewer under emergency conditions like injury, suspension and cap issues.

Apparently, the Devils hit the daily triple on those exceptions as they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Penguins, their third straight loss to start the season (0-2-1).

It was not immediately clear how long the Devils would be able to operate in such an "emergency" mode. There are "technically" no sanctions the league could impose on the Devils, although it's not believed the situation will last long.

There is also a historic precedent for this. Calgary iced fewer than 18 players for a number of games late in the 2008-09 season without any kind of repercussions. The NHL Players' Association was monitoring the Devils' situation to make sure the team wasn't in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

Still, a league that prides itself on preserving the competitive balance must be sorely troubled a team would end up having to ice a truncated lineup during the first week of the regular season.

Either way, this is an ugly way for the Devils to begin a season after the summer of chaos surrounding the Kovalchuk signing and subsequent league sanctions that included a $3 million fine and forfeited draft picks.