-- New Jersey Devils
goalie Martin Brodeur
was back in familiar territory Monday morning.
Not only did he don the facemask, stretch and take a few shots from some teammates as part of his rehabilitation stint, but he was also all smiles afterward in the midst of that old familiar media blitz that surrounded him.
Monday was the first time Brodeur spoke publicly since beginning his on-ice workouts Jan. 21.
"It's coming along," Brodeur said. "I've been skating a while like everyone knows, so it's nice to be practicing with real players. Coaches are good but they've been retired for a few years, so it's nice to have a few players shooting at me. I'll be in the best shape of my life when I do get back, that's for sure."
Brodeur, 36, admits there's no real timetable on his return. He's already missed 43 games due to a torn tendon in his left biceps suffered Nov. 1. Brodeur met with the surgeon who repaired his arm two weeks ago and got the go-ahead to skate.
Brodeur remains just seven victories short of tying Patrick Roy
's NHL record of 551 career triumphs and is five shutouts shy of equaling Terry Sawchuk
's all-time standard of 103.
"When will I return? I'd like to be back tomorrow," Brodeur said. "I don't have a date because I don't want to be disappointed if that date comes and I'm not ready or am ready before that date. But, recovery time was four months and we're now three-and-half months into it. So I figure somewhere around March; but the exact day, I don't know."
Brodeur said that while his left biceps feels fine, it's the top of his forearm and elbow that still hurt.
"I don't know about the arm, but the body will be good (upon his return)," Brodeur said. "It feels good, but it's tight because there's a lot of scar tissue that was built up through the surgery. It's a matter of breaking everything down. Anybody that has had the surgery will tell you the same thing -- it's a tough process to get back. Every day I hurt it a little bit but the next day, it feels better. Eventually, I'll wake up one day in no pain, but right now it's not 100 percent, that's for sure."
When Brodeur does return, he is hoping the team can continue posting the fine offensive numbers put up in his absence. The Devils are currently sitting ninth in the League, averaging 3.04 goals per game.
"It's the one change I've definitely seen," Brodeur said. "It's definitely nice and I figure we'll keep it up when I get back to make my job easier early on."
The 10-time NHL All-Star goalie has been extremely proud of the way his team has persevered without his services, relying on Kevin Weekes
and revelation Scott Clemmensen
to guard the net.
"It's exciting," he said. "It's not a surprise because we felt we had a good team, but with me going down, a lot of people questioned this hockey club and the team showed they could do it without me for a while. Clemmer has been playing some great games and has helped the team stay on top of our division for a while now."
The Devils are 33-17-3 and 69 points top the Atlantic Division and are third-best in the Eastern Conference.
Knowing the team is doing so well has certainly enabled Brodeur to slowly work his way back into game shape.
"I've been skating a while like everyone knows, so it's nice to be practicing with real players. Coaches are good but they've been retired for a few years, so it's nice to have a few players shooting at me. I'll be in the best shape of my life when I do get back, that's for sure." -- Martin Brodeur
"It's not a question of my saying, 'If I don't come back, we're not making the playoffs,' " Brodeur said. "You want to push coming back but I also know I can take my time and make sure I'm 100 percent. It's definitely a credit to everyone for having a great season. We'd like to stay healthy after getting hit really bad there for a couple of months. Now it's been good."
Brodeur isn't sure how the Devils will move forward once he is cleared for game action.
Clemmensen, who was recalled from the American Hockey League and supplanted Kevin Weekes
for the No. 1 job following Brodeur's injury, is 22-11-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
"I don't know what the plan is, but I never expected to play one game and sit one game, so I'm going to want to play a lot," he said. "The playoffs are coming in and I have to get to the position where I'm able to do it."
Devils coach Brent Sutter
said he and his coaching staff are closely monitoring Brodeur's progress.
"When he's ready, he'll be ready," Sutter said. "We've watched him day-to-day and have been encouraged by the steps he has taken."
Brodeur says the itch to return between the pipes gets greater with each workout.
"I'm at a point where I have about 10 percent left in my recovery, but it's a long process and it was hard," Brodeur said. "I didn't miss it much for the longest time because I knew recovery was so far down the road, but now I see that light that's right there to get back with the guys and I'm itching.
"I'm excited to be a part of the team again to a certain extent, and want to get myself on the road to recover over the next few weeks."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.