When New Jersey Devils' all-star goalie Martin Brodeur was sidelined by an elbow injury in November, all hopes for a successful season for the team seemed to evaporate. Requiring major surgery, the injury would keep Brodeur off ice for at least three to four months, or 50 to 60 percent of the NHL season.
The Devils' fortunes fell to backup goalies Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes.
Weekes hadn't back-stopped a full season's slate of games in several years. Clemmensen is a career backup and AHL goalie.
Intuition would have us believe the goalie with far more experience (Weekes) would have an easier time sliding into the starter role.
Yet, the opposite has been the case.
Weekes has struggled considerably thus far. Weekes' 2-4 record and 3.06 goals-against average are mediocre at best. His .899 save percentage is moderately acceptable.
On the flip side, Clemmensen has seized the moment.
Clemmensen has posted stats in this 2008-2009 season that are very good, if not eerily similar to Brodeur's. Clemmensen's .919 save percentage is very close to Brodeur's save percentage from 2008 (.916). Likewise, Clemmensen's .243 goals-against average is only moderately higher than Brodeur's goals-against average of .219 from 2008.
Granted, it's true that Clemmensen has excelled in a far smaller sample of games, as he's only started 11 games at this point in the 2008-2009 NHL season whereas Brodeur started 77 games during the 2007-2008 season.
It remains to be seen whether a career NHL backup/AHL goalie like Clemmensen can hold up during a full season as a starter and continue to shine on the ice night-in and night-out.
Despite having more than years of NHL experience, Clemmensen had never started more than nine games in a season and had never played in more than 13 prior to this season. At some point, he's going to start feeling the effects of wear and tear on the body.
Yet, I wouldn't count out Clemmensen rising to the occasion.
He's shown a high degree of grit and determination in his past performances. This is a goalie who led the Boston College Eagles to their second NCAA Championship with an overtime victory over defending champion North Dakota in 2001.
This is a goalie that also captured the Heaton Goaltending Award for the lowest goals-against average in Hockey East in the 1999-2000 season and set the BC record for wins in a regular season (24) as a freshman.
Clemmensen's never performed exceptionally in the NHL, but he's also never been given the chance to prove his worth over the long haul of a season.
Brodeur isn't expected to return to playing full-time until February, at the earliest, and possibly as late as March or early April.
If Clemmensen can keep the Devils in the thick of the playoff hunt for the next few months (with some help from backup goalie Kevin Weekes), he'll have performed admirably.