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Devils soar into Christmas break

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur says Lemaire has kept team accountable and focused through the first half.
Jacques Lemaire never imagined the Devils would be leading the NHL with 53 points by the Christmas break.

With an eye on managing the team's day-to-day plans, Lemaire said only recently did their 26-8-1 record fully sink in.

"The other day, you just go on and watch the next practice," Lemaire said. "After the game, it’s what are we going to do the next day. Then it’s one day at a time and you’re focused on that more than anything else. Yesterday, the night before, I started to think about this and I realized, ‘Holy (cow), we have a lot of points.’”

Martin Brodeur, whose season has included setting new records for shutouts (104), games played (1,030), and minutes played (60,235), said he couldn't have expected more from the team's play to this point.

"It’s kind of hard to ask for more than that," Brodeur said. "I think we’ve done a lot of good things in tough circumstances with players that went down throughout the first 34 games. We have to pleased, but then at the end, we feel there’s a lot of room for improvement."

The Devils have played some of their best hockey against the League's top clubs. They've gone a combined 6-0 against Pittsburgh and Washington, and visit the Capitals on Saturday.

"It’s a good sign," said Lemaire. "I know we played them at different times. Some of these games, I know they didn’t have their full team, but we didn’t have our full team either. It’s good that you win these games. It builds your confidence. When you win, you learn how to play, you learn how to win against good teams.

"There’s certain things that you have to do to win games. Sometimes you tell them and it doesn’t really sink in because maybe it’s not the top team. But when it’s the top team, ‘Yeah, this works.’ They believe in it and they get better at it."

Brodeur leads the NHL with 23 victories and believes Jersey's Team can be even more consistent. They have won five in a row, and 12 of their last 14.

"You could see against Buffalo (Dec. 7) that part of the game was exactly what we wanted, part of the game against Pittsburgh (Dec. 21)," Brodeur said. "But as other parts of our game are so-so, we get by because we’re pretty sound; we have responsible players. This is that hill we’re trying to climb to get that consistency, to be able to play well like that, and not just against top teams. We have to play against everybody like that. We get into these dips sometimes against certain teams, but it’s hard to ask for a lot more, point-wise."

Even though the Devils are on pace to surpass their franchise-record 51 wins of a season ago, Brodeur said Lemaire has kept the team's ego in check. Not even the best start in club history has the Devils looking beyond their next opponent.

"If you look at the atmosphere sometimes, you feel like we’re at .500," Brodeur explained. "We don’t play with that, ‘Oh, we’re too good.’ We don’t feel like that. We feel that we need to prove it every game, and that’s the type of team (we are). We need to beat that team that we’re playing. We’re not overlooking people.

"For us, it’s important every day, and I think that that’s what gets the season to go faster. It’s easy to play each game because you don’t look at anything else but you performance that day. If you play bad, the next day, we don’t pay the price. We might, but not to the extent that we had to last year. It’s just different. It’s a different kind of mentality that we have. We just go day-by-day."

Brodeur has heard from hockey greats past and present since Monday, when he recorded his 104th career shutout to surpass Terry Sawchuk's all-time mark.

“It was an interesting day," he said. "A lot of people called for interviews, for different things. A lot of people called for congratulations. It’s nice to hear from some guys; older guys that I’ve played with."

Brodeur got a call from The Great One, and a text message from Sid the Kid.

"Gretz (Wayne Gretzky) called me. That was nice," he said. "(NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman sent me a message. It was nice. People were recognizing it. (Sidney Crosby) texted me. It’s easier with the texting, guys were sending quick things."

Team Canada called, too, but not to tell Brodeur he’d earned the No. 1 job for the 2010 Olympic team. Not yet, at least.

“They congratulated me though,” he said.

• Forward lines from Wednesday's practice:
Parise - Zajac - Elias
Rolston - Niedermayer - Langenbrunner
Pandolfo - McAmmond - Bergfors
Zharkov - Pelley - Clarkson

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