By Stu Hackel
This could be temporary, it could be a sign of things to come, but Martin Brodeur will now be splitting time in goal for the Devils with Johan Hedberg starting tonight (Tuesday) against the Wild, a move that can't be a surprise if you've watched the future Hall of Famer play this season, but it still represents something of a historic moment, and a sad one, too.
Depending on the metric employed, Brodeur may be your choice as the best goalie of all time. Certainly, he's long been the face of the New Jersey franchise, a multiple Stanley Cup- and trophy-winner, a record holder, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, an international star for his country -- in short, a constant and bright light on the hockey scene since his Calder Trophy season of 1993-94.
But in the last few years, Brodeur has struggled in the playoffs as the Devils failed to advance beyond the first round, and he's suffered injuries for the first time. His annual work load of 70-plus games always sparked speculation that he'd wear out, and while he defied those predictions for years, it's possible that it has finally happened.
When Jacques Lemaire took over as Devils coach last month, we noted that Brodeur's problems were a top priority. And now that Lemaire has had a little while to see his goalie in action -- especially after Saturday's game in Carolina, in which Brodeur let in three goals on seven shots in the first eight minutes, following Hedberg's 28-save performance in a 3-1 win over Atlanta on Friday -- the coach has decided to platoon his goalies.
"I don't deserve to be in there when you don't win. That's the bottom line," Brodeur said Monday (quoted by Tom Gulitti in The Bergen Record). "I've been winning all of my career and now it's been a little tougher, so it's normal that somebody [else starts]. If it works, good. It's all about the team."
One of the factors that has not been widely discussed in connection with Brodeur's difficulties this season is the semi-retirement of the Devils' long-time goalie coach, Jacques Caron. While still a Devils special assignment coach, Caron is no longer with the team on a daily basis. He's living in Florida. Brodeur's former backup, Chris Terreri, is now the full-time goalie coach. Brodeur told Rich Chere of The Newark Star-Ledger after the Carolina game that his relationship with Terreri has been a good one.
"He looks a lot at my game. We work on a lot of stuff I need to work on. He's been important to me," Brodeur said. "There is definitely a different relationship from Jacques to Chris. But I've been enjoying it. He's on the ball with everything. I'm my own coach to a certain extent. I know what I'm doing wrong. I know what to try to work on. It's just not clicking right now. I'll get it back."
Still, Caron's huge impact on Brodeur cannot be calculated (here's an interview with Caron from Brodeur's website) and if there was ever a time in his career when he needed help, it's now.
Canucks on a roll: Every week, it seems another team has leapfrogged into first place overall in the NHL. This week, it's the Canucks' turn. And as one Western Conference team after another (and a couple of Eastern teams, too) look poised to be the next Stanley Cup champion, it's important to remember that there is still a half season to go before the playoffs actually begin.
Still, with a stunning run that has seen them grab 32 of a possible 36 points since Nov. 24th -- including wins over the Flyers, Stars, Avalanche and Sharks during the past week (the last three on the road) -- the Canucks have staked their claim to being part of the conversation when talk turns to serious Cup contenders.
Monday night's win in San Jose put the Canucks two points up on the Red Wings, Flyers and Penguins, who are all tied with 53 points. It's causing some folks in Vancouver to shake their heads in wonderment.
"These, after all, are the Canucks, the generally irrelevant Canucks," writes Ed Willis in The Province. "this market doesn’t have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. Heartbreak? Absolutely. Disappointment? You bet. Frustration? Could write a book about it. But the best record in the NHL? Sorry, that’s a little new."
Willis goes on to write that every time the Sharks made a push last night, Vancouver had a response, and that every Canuck played a strong game against a team that normally has its way with them. He senses that San Jose may be on the decline as a Conference power (writing that Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle are "starting to look like yesterday’s men") and the Canucks are poised to fill the vacuum.
It wasn't long ago that the Kings seemed like they'd be that team. They've had a couple of runs this season, too, but losing on Monday night to the Blackhawks, their fourth straight defeat after winning five of six, casts doubt on them now.
Inconsistency plagues the Kings, and while they played a pretty good game against Chicago, "a pretty good game against these guys is not enough," Anze Kopitar told Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times -- especially when Jonathan Toews is surprisingly back in the champs' lineup a week earlier than expected following a shoulder injury.
Truth is, you can't count out the Blackhawks, Red Wings or any team in a Western Conference that is still packed so tightly that only 10 points separate the first nine teams, and only 14 separate the first 13. A hot streak here, some stumbling there, a few key injuries sprinkled in, and this stack of teams could shake out differently one month from now.