BeDevil'd in New Jersey: Martin Brodeur went down and the New Jersey Devils went up—or at least stayed the same. Is it the swamp water or just the right system for the two new 'tenders?
Surprise surprise, it's December and the New Jersey Devils are holding strong in the playoff picture in the Eastern conference.
With only 25 games played, the Devils have as many as two games at hand to all of the teams within three points—above or below—of them in the standings.
While the Carolina Hurricanes may want to try to knock off the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres before they entertain dreams of the seventh spot in the East and Atlantic Division foes Pittsburgh and Philadelphia try to fend off the surging Devils (8-2-0 in their last 10), the Atlantic-leading Rangers may have to look over their shoulders as well.
Not only have they played more games than any divisional opponent (31 compared to the 28 of the New York Islanders and Penguins and the 27 of the Flyers) but they lead their closest competition by only six points (not a lot with the Flyers' hot play of late and their four games at hand) for the division lead.
While the Devils are eight points behind though, they also have the upper-hand: they have an astonishing six games at hand to the Rangers.
All without their heart and soul of so many years, Martin Brodeur.
In a season where Brodeur was expected become the all-time Wins leader with a strong chance at the shutout title as well, the Montreal-native's historic quest was cut short November 1st following a torn left bicep that would keep him out of action for three or four months.
At that, you'd assume that the season is over for the Devils right?
Much like Brittney Spears' latest comeback, the rumored six-episode revival of Friends from a few years ago, and a movie featuring Rob Schneider, that thought turned out to be wrong.
At least, after a bit of a rough patch.
Stepping in for a legendary goalie who's started 6-2-2 with two shutouts and eyeing a fourth Stanley Cup for a franchise used to making the playoffs wouldn't exactly count as easy (It's a few spots between slicing bread and tying your shoes), but neither Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes could turn it down—for one it's their job and for another reason it's actually regular playing time in New Jersey.
See before being injured Brodeur had played in 52 consecutive regular season games (57 if you count playoffs) so playing second fiddle to the man dressed as the Devil is usually a cool $500,000-$700,000 or so.
But the post-Brodeur era didn't start off so great.
After Kevin Weekes stopped 28 shots in a 2-0 loss to Buffalo on November the third, Weekes backstopped 'Jersey to a 4-3 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning two nights later for his first win in just under a year.
I guess you have to (re)start somewhere.
From there however, it went a bit downhill. The Devils played back-to-back games that weekend, losing both (3-1 to Detroit and 2-1 to Edmonton) splitting the set between Weekes and Clemmensen. The two would also go on to lose the next two games as well, setting New Jersey on a four-game slide.
Despite the absence of Brodeur however, the goaltending was fairly solid, contrary to the Devil's record, allowing an average of three goals a game (and only allowing more than that once against the Rangers in a 5-2 loss).
Whatever it was, be it the shock factor of not having the Marty inbetween the pipes, some early season doldrums, or the stereotypically stagnant offense that New Jersey flaunts, the tide soon turned.
The Devils offset that four-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak to close out the month.
With a 6-5 win over Washington, a pair of wins over the Panthers (3-1 and 3-2), a victory over the Islanders, and a second win of the month in Tampa Bay, Clemmensen began to cement himself as the solution in Brodeur's absence, winning four of the five.
The Devils also found their scoring legs, netting five or more goals three times over the streak.
Sidenote: The Devils, not normally known for scoring, have really begun to change that this season, especially with the emergence of Zach Parise and Patrick Elias. They're currently on pace to score 233 goals, tied for the most (they scored 233 goals in 2005/06) they've scored since 2000/01 when they led the league in scoring with 295 goals.
Yea...the Devils scored 295 goals. I'm just as confused as you are.
The streak eventually fell in the final game of the month with a 4-1 loss to the Penguins, but the Devils had started to prove that they could win without Marty.
Since then they've done even more to help their case, winning their three December matchups, each in convincing, defensive Devils fashion (4 goals allowed and two of the three opponents have been held under 30 shots).
Clemmensen started each one of those wins.
So with Christmas, the New Year, and inevitably the trade deadline approaching, team once in trouble (and thought to be in the market for Nikolai Khabibulin) is now turning on the jets in hopes that Brodeur can hit the ground running once he returns ready and well-rested for the playoffs.
I'm sure that, while they'd be happy to have him come back, Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes might not mind if Brodeur waited to make sure he was ready before coming back.
After all, they're only costing the Devils a cominbed $1.18 million which, cheap or not, is really starting to look like money well spent.