With their team currently sitting at a comfortable fourth in the conference following a minor end-of-season slump, New Jersey Devils fans might now be considering their chances for the post-season.
To all intents and purposes, things look pretty good—having sat at the top of the division for most of the latter half of the season, some might even say it’s the Devils’ year.
However, this Devils fan can’t help but be a little more sceptical, and though it pains her to say so, it’s because of Monsieur Brodeur.
In his 13 proper seasons with New Jersey, he’s established himself as a leader both on and off the ice; the one player, especially since the departure of Scott Stevens, who fans can have complete and total faith in; the backbone of the team.
Indeed, most look to the day he retires as if it was the apocalypse, so vital has his reliability been to a team that has always been a bit shaky in the defense department.
It says a lot, in my mind, that the only phrase my flatmates have picked up from my obsessive playing of certain NHL video games has been “and Brodeur makes the save…”—and this pretty much reflects the last decade of Devils history. He’s led the team to several Stanley Cups and consistently given the fans peace of mind and confidence in his abilities. Odd man rushes weren’t quite so worrying with Brodeur in net.
This season, he was meant to take a back seat, to give Weekes a few more starts—to start winding down his career, if you will. Due to his enduring competitiveness, and New Jersey's reluctance to give him up, that hasn’t happened, and the stats would suggest that he’s been as successful this year as ever. After all, a GAA of 2.19 and save percentage of .919 are not too shabby in anyone’s book.
Yet, I find myself not quite having the confidence in him that I used to have. Sure, on a one-on-one, he’s still the person I’d most like to have in the net. He’s still the person I’d pick to start every game. He’s even kept his place on my fantasy team.
However, too many average goals are slipping through in regular time—goals that someone of his calibre should be all over like a bad suit. On a shoot out, he’s still one of the best, but every lacklustre shot that passes him highlights the inescapable fact that he’s just not impenetrable any more.
Have the rest of the league finally sussed Marty, or is age just taking its toll on his long-revered reflexes?
Thankfully, this isn’t quite the crisis situation it might have been in the past, as the Devils have stepped up their offense in the last few years. Zubrus, Parise and Zajac have brought a relative youth and a flair up front that’s long been lacking. In fact, it’s probably their scoring ability that’s allowed the D a little room to breathe – and perhaps it’s also done a lot to cover up Brodeur’s growing inconsistency.
Having said all this, and having reluctantly tainted my own opinion of my favourite player, I still wouldn’t dare to suggest that the Devils’ number 30 isn’t one of the best in the business. He will forever stand as a firm fan favourite, and his ten All-Star picks and thirty franchise records speak for themselves. Hell, there’s no denying that he’s still a great goalie, and undoubtedly one of the best in the NHL.
Nevertheless, I find myself flinching a little more when the other team shoots these days, and I look to the Playoffs with trepidation rather than confidence. If the Devils are going to go all the way this post-season, Marty is going to have to pull something special out of the bag.
Can he do it? I'm not so sure.
But, man, do I hope he proves me wrong!