The amount of time I've had to defend Martin Brodeur during this current funk the New Jersey Devils are in has been one word—tiring.
It happens every season when the Devils go into the losing funk that all 29 other teams eventually find themselves in at one point or another in a long, grinding hockey season.
When it's the Devils turn to slip up a bit, certain people call out Brodeur, demanding he see less playing time. Some go as far to say he's washed up, and that the Devils need to get a completely different No. 1 goaltender ASAP to save the short-term future, and more importantly the current season (uhhh...).
Season stats don't really seem to mean much to these anti-Brodeurians. When I brought up the fact to one of them that he's second in wins, fourth in GAA, and tied for first in shutouts on the season, I received the following response: "Haha.
You're one of those fans that look at stats?"
Why...yes. Yes, I am.
Considering stats are the very molecules that make up the system we call hockey, I find the study of statistical evidence to make judgments on players and teams very important, if not extremely vital.
If you're not judging off the facts, exactly what are you judging off of?
The question: Are the criticisms of Martin Brodeur which overlook the offensive struggles justified?
We're going to end this dispute once and for all (at least for a couple of days).
My hypothesis before starting my statistical analysis is that Brodeur's numbers go slightly up over the past 10 to 15 games, but the offensive numbers go down enough where it's not logical to blame Brodeur more than the forwards, if at all.
Let's take a look.
Now, the Devils have gone 5-10 over the past 15 games. Brodeur started in 14 of those games. Now prior to those games, he had started 40 games.
In his first 40 games (starts), the Devils went 29-11. His GAA during that time was 2.10, which is absolutely acceptable and would be the second highest in the NHL this season if he still held it today.
In the past 14 games, his GAA goes up to...2.50. It goes up 0.40, or two-fifths of a goal. Is the gap between 2.10 and 2.50 really big enough to alter the difference between the Devils winning on a consistent basis and them losing on a consistent basis?
It's raising the GAA nearly one-half of a goal.
You give a team a goalie with a 2.50 goals against average, that team's probably going to be pretty content most of the time as long as they can find a way to score goals.
By the way, a 2.50 GAA would rank 17th in the league right now (not the greatest, but there are goalies on some damn good teams below him, such as Pittsburgh and Los Angeles). And it's pretty unfair to expect Brodeur to uphold a 2.10 GAA all season.
If he does, awesome, but it can't be expected.
The offense should give us a better idea of whether the increase of Brodeur's GAA is really to blame for the Devils recent losing woes. In Brodeur's first 40 starts, the Devils were averaging 2.85 goals a game. For some perspective, that would put the Devils the ninth ranked offensive team right now.
Sounds about right for a 29-11 hockey team.
However the past 14 games, the Devils GFG is 1.85. They're not even scoring two goals a game, and the average goes down a whole goal. Needless to say, if that became a season-long trend, the Devils would be rock bottom in the NHL in offense.
The amount of goals the Devils have scored per game (1.00) has gone down considerably during the past 14 games. The goals-for difference actually more than doubles the difference of Brodeur's GAA before the slump and during the slump, which is 0.40.
And somehow this losing skid is Brodeur's fault? I don't see it in the numbers.
As Brodeur's goals-against clearly does go up, it does not go up as significantly as the goals scored for the Devils goes down. The majority of blame clearly goes on the offense for this skid.
As a matter of fact, Brodeur's GAA could've theoretically stayed the same or even gone down, and the Devils might still be in the same spot with the shaky offense as of late.
Things don't look too bad for the near future, however.
The Devils only have three more games before the Olympic break, two of which are at the Rock, and the other at Carolina, one of the league's worst squads.
During the break, important role players such as David Clarkson and No. 1 defenseman Paul Martin will have the opportunity to get healthy without missing any more games than they already have.
The Olympics might benefit the Devils over any other team in the league. The Devils don't look sharp, they look lethargic at times (especially in the defensive end), and while still being somewhat aggressive on offense, they haven't been able to put the puck in the back of the net, which is the main objective.
Obviously, that has to be straining on the Devils confidence and psychological state of mind. A week or two off the ice might do a few of these players some good.
Back to the question and the stats lead to the facts: The offense has been a killer for the Devils as of late. People interested in the sport that tend not to like or respect Martin Brodeur for the goalie he is love to jump at the smell of blood.
On the surface, the Devils are 5-10 in the past 15 games, with Brodeur in net for 14 of them. Granted, it looks easy to blame Brodeur from those numbers.
But as we all have learned, you need to go below the surface sometimes (actually, most of the time) to get the true answer. Going below the surface in this instance, while Brodeur isn't playing his best hockey, he's certainly not the main reason for the Devils cold spell.
In Jersey Shore terms: Brodeur haters fall back— at least for now.