|Martin Brodeur is tied for the NHL lead in wins with 25. Watch Brodeur's recent game highlights|
Martin Brodeur could have had more than enough excuses for taking a backward step this season. Some skeptics even predicted he would, and they looked smarter than any fifth grader back in October when the New Jersey Devils were stumbling under rookie coach Brent Sutter.
Was Brodeur just fooling everyone, or was his net really that loose?
Why were we even wondering?
Brodeur not only has turned his and the Devils’ season around since his uncharacteristically slow start, but at 35-years-old, the future Hall of Fame goalie appears on his way to yet another vintage Brodeur season, complete with 40 wins in roughly 70 games.
No. We’re talking about Martin Brodeur here. It only would be surprising if his string of human-like performances lasted deep into November.
After starting the season with 11 losses in his first 16 games, Brodeur has won 20 of his last 24 games since Nov. 17, and the Devils have leapt from the cellar into the thick of things in the Atlantic Division. He’s now tied with San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov for the League lead in wins with 25 and is third with a 2.10 goals-against average.
“Maybe early on I didn’t think I needed to adjust, maybe I thought everything was going to happen like it used to, and it didn’t,” Brodeur told NHL.com. “It took us longer than we thought, but right now we’ve got that togetherness that we were looking for. I don’t think I changed much, but I’m just not worried about other things.”
What Brodeur means is he’s not worrying about everyone and everything around him, and that includes a defensive unit that features relative newcomers to the NHL like Andy Greene, Mike Mottau, Sheldon Brookbank and Johnny Oduya.
See the puck, stop the puck, clear the puck. That’s Broduer’s focus.
“It’s nice to take care of people over and over, but at the end of the day you have to go out and deliver yourself,” Brodeur said. “When you’re younger you’re able to do both and manage a little more, but this year it was tougher early on trying to take care of everyone and myself. Now it’s like, I’ll do what I need to do and take care of the guys after. The focus is there, and the guys are now playing well, which makes my job easier.”
Brodeur has made his job look easy through three Stanley Cup runs, which is why longtime Devils like John Madden get a good laugh every year when the new players come into the Devils dressing room and marvel at Marty.
“Oh, certainly,” Madden said with a chuckle. “Every year, after the first or second practice, when you see his work ethic and the saves he’s making you definitely hear them saying; ‘Oh my god.’ It’s fun.”
Dainius Zubrus, an 11-year NHL vet, but first-year Devil, gained his appreciation for Brodeur by playing against him with the Flyers, Canadians, Capitals and Sabres. Now that he’s with him, Zubrus can testify that in Brodeur’s case, perception equals reality.
“You only see the player side of him when you’re against him and you can only appreciate and respect the game side. Being in the same room, he shows you why he is what he is,” Zubrus told NHL.com. “The reason why he’s at the top is the way he competes on the ice every single time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice or a morning skate, he is the toughest guy there is to score a goal on. Period. It doesn’t matter when. He pulls something out on somebody pretty much every practice.”
“The reason Marty is who he is is because he takes a lot of pride in doing things right in practice,” Sutter added. “Human beings are creatures of habit, and in hockey good habits start in practice. He practices like he wants to be the best.”
But it’s more than Brodeur’s work ethic that causes even the most stoic to gush.
Kevin Weekes, who signed on to be Brodeur’s backup over the summer, already appreciated Brodeur for being a more-than-worthy opponent and the ideal model for every goaltender.
Weekes now knows Brodeur is the ideal superstar, too.
“The one thing that has been refreshing to see is, day-to-day, somebody as accomplished as he is, he’s still very easygoing and relates very well with people,” Weekes told NHL.com. “That’s not always the case when you have players with that stature. He’s just so passionate. He’s as passionate to play as he is to be around the locker room.
“When you put two and two together, in this case, you obviously get four.”
“That’s dead on,” Zubrus followed. “Just talking to him, you’ll never feel like he’s something that special. He’ll never put himself higher than anybody else.”
Brodeur’s humility doesn’t just show privately. Publicly he’s the face of the franchise, and as a result he’s overly gracious in granting interview requests whenever possible, even hours before a game, which is rare in the NHL goalie fraternity.
“When you play a lot, you’re going to reflect what the team is. That’s the bottom line,” Brodeur said. “When you’re playing every day, you really are the image of what the team is.”
However, when Weekes signed it appeared to signal the end of Brodeur’s iron man-like run. The Devils were supposed to now have a veteran backup who could steal at least 20 games in the regular season to keep Brodeur fresh for the playoffs.
More than halfway through the season, Weekes is on pace to play 11 games.
That Brodeur has let him get even that much crease time is surprising.
“Obviously I have the ability to play more, but the reality is, look at who my partner is,” Weekes said. “He wants to play, and it’s difficult to say he’s not playing. That’s just the reality of it. He deserves to play given who he is.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.