As the Devils were wrapping up their skate on Prudential Center’s main rink, Brodeur took to the ice to face shots from teammates.
It was a welcome change.
“I’ve been skating for a bit now as everybody knows, so it’s kind of nice to get back into practicing with players, real players,” Brodeur said.
Brodeur will miss his 44th game this season when the Devils host the Rangers Monday in Newark, and it’s not known how much longer it will be before the four-time Vezina Trophy winner returns to New Jersey’s lineup. But he conceded that he still has more work to do before joining the team in practice.
“It feels good, but it’s tight,” Brodeur said of his left distal bicep tendon which was surgically repaired on Nov. 6. “There’s a lot of scar tissue that’s built up through the surgery. It’s a matter of breaking everything down, and anybody who’s had surgery can tell you the same thing. It’s a tough process to get back, but every day I hurt it a little bit and the next day it feels better. You just have to break [the scar tissue] and eventually I’ll wake up one day with no pain. But right now it’s not 100%, that’s for sure.”
Now that he’s closer to full-strength, Brodeur is growing eager to get back to his regular duties between the pipes. He's second on the league's all-time wins list, seven behind Patrick Roy (551).
“I didn’t miss it much for the longest time because [my return] was so far ahead, but now that I see that light – it’s right there – and I get back with the guys, now I’m itching,” he said. “I’m excited to be part of the team again to a certain extent and get myself on the road to recovering in the next few weeks.”
I don’t think it’s going to be that long. It’s not going to be tomorrow, but it’s not going to be that far off. - Martin Brodeur Brodeur will eventually rejoin a squad that has defied grim predictions without him, although he hasn’t been at all shocked by what he’s seen. The Devils have risen to the top of the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of second-place Philadelphia with 28 games remaining.
New Jersey was 5-2-2 when Brodeur got hurt against Atlanta on Nov. 1. Since then they have gone 28-15-1, including a season-high eight-game winning streak from Jan. 13-30. Scott Clemmensen, who has filled in with 34 starts, sits eighth on the league’s wins list with 22.
“It’s exciting. I think it’s been great,” Brodeur said. “It's not a surprise because we felt we had a good team. I think with me going down, a lot of people had questions about this hockey club. They showed they could do it without me for a while. Clemmer's been playing some great games helping the team to stay on top of the division for a while now.
"It’s kind of nice, it’s not a question of me coming back – I don’t feel pressure of saying well, if I don’t come back we’re not making the playoffs. I can take my time and make sure that I’m 100% when I do get back. You have to give a lot of credit to everybody for having a great season, we stayed healthy after going really bad there for a couple of months.”
Among the players to put pucks on Brodeur Monday were Bobby Holik and Andy Greene, each of whom missed long stretches of the regular season with injury. Holik scored on Brodeur with a shot from the high slot.
“You know the old saying that playing against the best brings the best out of you? Maybe I was trying a little harder because I scored,” Holik said.
A broken pinkie cost Holik 18 games, but the center said it’s hard to draw parallels between himself and Brodeur because each player copes with injury in his own way.
“He’s a different player than I am,” said Holik. “Those things are very specific to each player, so I couldn’t compare. Him and I in the same sentence, it just doesn’t work.”
Greene was sidelined for 20 games with a broken hand and remembers feeling re-energized by being back on the ice with teammates.
“It’s always nice to get out there, especially when you get to practice with a few of the guys,” Greene said. “I know he only took a couple shots there at the end, but it kind of gives you a break mentally from just facing one shooter the whole time. When I got to skate with a couple of teammates it kind of rejuvenated me mentally. It’s always good to get out there and face some different shooters and some different situations."
Greene added that pacing yourself is key.
"You get anxious," he said. "The thing is, you don’t want to push it and risk reinjuring it, so you want to be patient a little bit too.”