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NJD Notes: Practice makes perfect

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
As of Tuesday, no announcement had been made on when Brodeur will make his next start. – The biggest question surrounding the Devils this week involves the date of Martin Brodeur’s return. Though the reigning Vezina Trophy winner said he’s ready to go, no official announcement has been made on when he’ll get his next start.

Through all the speculation concerning Brodeur’s status, it has been business-as-usual for the first-place Devils. Head Coach Brent Sutter said it’s a credit to his players that they have remained focused on what needs to be done with 22 games left in the regular season.

Jersey’s Team opens a three-game homestand beginning Thursday against Colorado.

“When it first went down in early November, [Brodeur’s injury] became more of a distraction on the outside because everyone for three or four days was upset, thinking, ‘There goes the Devils,’” Sutter said after Tuesday’s practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion. “We were pretty glued together inside the room. After those first few days, it hasn’t really been an issue and yet you knew this was going to happen. I understand why: the stature of Marty Brodeur.”

The Devils were 5-2-2 heading into the Nov. 1 contest in which Brodeur got hurt. They have defied skeptics by going 33-17-1 without their All-Star netminder. Brodeur is seven shy of Patrick Roy’s League-record 551 wins, and needs five shutouts to match Terry Sawchuk’s career mark of 103.

“Everyone understands now that it’s not just one man’s team,” Sutter said. “It’s about being a team. It’s about having good goaltending and having good players in front of your goaltender. It’s always been known inside the room and the organization, but people on the outside didn’t see it that way. Now I think it’s looked at differently, and it should be.”

Brodeur’s recovery time has been right on target for the three-to-four month window given after his Nov. 6 surgery.

“For me I feel really good,” Brodeur said. “Until I experience gametime, like power plays for two minutes or 5-on-3's for two minutes, pulling the goalie, shooting the puck when five guys are trying to take it from me; I have to see how that goes. It’s hard to mimic that in any practice. That’s why they say ‘game shape,’ it’s much different than practice shape or being fit in the gym. It’s playing hockey. You have to get back to that, and there’s only one way and that’s to play the game.”

He said Tuesday that his puck-handling abilities have returned sooner than expected.

“A couple of weeks ago I thought it was going to be tough,” Brodeur said. “Talking to my therapist, he said it was something that might take a while to come back. It’s been better and better every time I shoot the puck, every time I react. I don’t feel anything. That’s one of the things that has really surprised me. I’ve got my strength and my flexibility and now it’s pretty pain-free. When I catch pucks, it doesn’t matter if I don’t see it coming, I don’t feel much. At first, I used to feel that little pull in the elbow, now there’s nothing there and I’ve been getting some pretty hard shots to my glove side.”

Brodeur faced a series of breakaways at the end of practice, stopping nine of 10 in the first round. Among the first group of shooters were leading scorer Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston and Brian Gionta. Jamie Langenbrunner hit the post, but David Clarkson used a toe drag to score.

In the second round, Brodeur allowed goals to Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador and Jay Pandolfo.

“Hopefully that’s not a message to the other teams to send the big guys,” Brodeur said with a laugh. “That’s the way it goes. Everybody’s a talented player, so it doesn’t matter if they’re not slotted among our top five shooters, they’re still skilled. I haven't had many breakaway opportunities since I’ve been back, so it was nice to get a feeling for them.”

Sutter reiterated that when Brodeur is, "ready to play, he's ready to play." He planned on further evaluating Brodeur's performance in Wednesday's practice before coming to any decision on a return date.

"This isn’t like he’s been out for two or three weeks," Sutter said. "He had a pretty serious injury, had significant surgery, and I want to make sure that when it’s the right time, it’s the right time and nothing sooner. Can that be Thursday night? Possibly. Can it be Saturday? Possibly. That’s why it was important for Marty to have some practice time."

• Brendan Shanahan returned to practice Tuesday after skipping Monday’s skate to rest. He skated with instep pads attached to his shinguards for some added protection after taking shots off his foot in the games against Boston and Tampa Bay.

White has extra protection added to the bottom of his shinguards.
Colin White and Bryce Salvador both wear similar pads, and each said that they adapted their equipment after getting one too many shots off their feet.

White first noticed Geordie Kinnear wearing the improvised pads in Albany (AHL), and asked trainers to stitch the same hard plastic onto the bottom of his shinguards. Over time, he added additional protection to the inside of his ankles.

Salvador said the pads take little getting used to.

“You get hit enough times, you look for solutions,” Salvador said. “You try to prevent injury, no one wants a broken foot.”

Mike Mottau, White’s defensive partner, does not wear any coverage over his laces.

“You get hit there every once in a while, but I never thought about putting pads there,” Mottau said.

White said a player’s style might be a factor in why some players wear the added padding and others do not.

“Motts wears his shinguards up high, I could never do that. I’d be getting hit six, seven times a game. He gets out of the way, he’s quick enough,” White said.

When told how White and Salvador came to try the pads, Shanahan shot from the hip: “Every once in a while the defensemen surprise us with their intellect.”

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