Grading Martin Brodeur's Performance Since Return from Injury
Martin Brodeur returned to his hallowed place between the pipes for the New Jersey Devils one week ago, and it could not have come at a more pressing time. A shoulder injury has rendered winger Ilya Kovalchuk to the sidelines, and he joins Dainius Zubrus and Alexei Ponikarovsky to form a full line of injured top-six forwards.
Henrik Tallinder, Stephen Gionta and captain Bryce Salvador are banged up as well. If Brodeur took any longer to recover, the Devils might have been doomed to miss the playoffs a year after reaching the Stanley Cup finals.
But his stabilizing presence and puck-stopping ability have returned, and New Jersey is 2-0-1 since, with Brodeur starting all three contests. Although this is a small sample size, the 40-year-old appears to have picked up where he left off.
In this slideshow, I'll grade his performance in all three games and dissect the goal he was credited with against the Carolina Hurricanes in his first game back.
March 21: Devils at Hurricanes
In Brodeur's return to the crease last Thursday night, the first thing to look at was his movement.
Did he seem stiff? Was the balky back on his mind? Did it affect his efforts on pucks around the crease?
Brodeur passed these eye tests with flying colors in the 4-1 Devils win. If you take away the date, it is impossible to notice a difference in his play before and after the injury. He was on his back, stacking the pads the way he always has. His maneuverability was not hindered.
This was probably his best save of the night.
In all, Brodeur stopped 17 of 18 shots. What lacked in quantity was there in quality. He was forced to move around a lot, and the back was a nonfactor. The only puck that got by him was a wringer from Jeff Skinner.
March 23: Panthers at Devils
After missing a month, would Brodeur experience any rust or soreness playing two games in three days?
It was an identical night in the box score for Brodeur against the Florida Panthers, as he allowed one goal on 18 shots in a 2-1 victory.
This time it wasn't a perfectly placed slap shot but a rare stick-handling gaffe from Brodeur. We'll let those slide every once in a while considering he has better hands with the goalie paddle than Cam Janssen does with an Easton Synergy.
Again, he wasn't hit with a blitzkrieg of shots, but there is something admirable in a goaltender who can go long periods of time without facing a shot and still remain focused. It must be tough to be all alone on the far side of the ice singing "99 bottles of beer on the wall" while the skaters are working together and having fun peppering the other goaltender.
The offense gave him a slim margin to work with, and Brodeur held it up.
March 25: Devils at Senators
New Jersey deserved to get two points out of this game. The Devils outshot the Ottawa Senators 34-14.
On one of the goals that slipped past Brodeur, he appeared to be screened, which is a helpless situation for a goaltender. But on Colin Greening's goal in the closing seconds of the second period, Brodeur offered up a juicy rebound, one that he probably wants back. One of the cardinal rules of hockey is not to allow a goal in the final minute of a period, and that one stung.
I won't dissect the shootout too much. It is a skills competition and does not accurately reflect how well a team is put together. Bleacher Report's Steve Silverman makes his case against the circus act here.
(The Devils are just 1-4 in shootouts this year. Last year, they were among the league's best. Zach Parise was dynamite in such scenarios.)
The rebound goal at the end of the period hurt. Ottawa goalie Ben Bishop outplayed Brodeur, and the Devils seemed to have trouble figuring out how to beat his enormous frame. Brodeur did make some big saves late and in overtime as well.
He Scores! Errrr, Sort Of...
Take a look at it for yourself. If you didn't have access to the box score or the Twitterverse, would you have credited Brodeur with the goal? I wouldn't either.
If that little touch Brodeur put on the puck was enough to warrant him credit for the goal, how was it not significant enough for possession, which would have triggered a referee's whistle and the start of the Carolina power play?
It's a trivial debate. But when my brother told me Brodeur scored a goal, I was hoping to see a highlight like this. That was just awesome. I love Brodeur's emotion; he was so pumped.
But a tally is a tally. I'd be a stickler to give a goal scored by a goaltender a low mark.
With all the other injuries, especially Kovalchuk, New Jersey certainly isn't whole. But at least with No. 30 back in net, the planets have returned to orbit in the Devils' universe.
Brodeur appears to be in full form, and that has to continue if the team plans not only to make the playoffs but win a few series. They can shift things around, call up guys from Albany or pick up skaters from the scrap heap until Kovalchuk and Zubrus get healthy.
But the one indispensable guy on the team is Brodeur. You saw how sorely he was missed during that cold month.
Due to Johan Hedberg working so much while Brodeur was down and New Jersey's frail position in the playoff picture, the Devils and coach Pete DeBoer will have to ride their thoroughbred hard down the stretch and hope that his back is absolutely 100 percent.
It looks to be just that right now.
Overall Grade: A.