-- It remains uncertain if Martin Brodeur
will be returning for his first start in almost four months on Thursday against Colorado, but New Jersey Devils
coach Brent Sutter
wants to make one thing perfectly clear.
Time is on his side.
"I'm not 100 percent sure when Marty will get in net, and I still have to sit down to talk to Lou (Lamoriello) about it, but we have time and you use time to your side and to your benefit and that's what we're doing," Sutter told the media following Tuesday's morning skate.
"We're going to get through another practice (on Wednesday) and make a decision," he said. "Marty is a unique individual, but he's suffered a pretty significant injury and had surgery so I want to make sure when it's the right time, it's the right time, and no sooner. Could that be Thursday night, possibly; could that be Saturday, possibly. Again that's why I want to use the time we have and it's important for Marty to get this practice time in. That being said, we have two other good goalies here to take into consideration and we have to be respectful to that."
On top of that, Sutter realizes the return of an injured goalie following a long layoff is a touchy proposition. The 36-year-old Brodeur already has missed 49 games due to a torn tendon in his left biceps suffered on Nov. 1 against the Atlanta Thrashers
"As a coach, you don't have control over how many minutes or what type of situation a goalie plays during the course of a game as you would another player returning from injury," Sutter said. "As a goalie, you're in for the duration, the full 60-65 minutes."
Of course, Brodeur feels the sooner he gets the nod, the better.
"The arm felt good (Tuesday) and, really, the best thing is knowing that it actually does feel good and that I can push it without thinking about it anymore," Brodeur said. "After an injury, you're always thinking about favoring something and I'm at a point right now where it's all reactionary; who cares where the puck goes. Everything is going in the right direction and I've discovered that this week more than any other time."
In all likelihood, a decision on Brodeur's availability for Thursday will be made following Wednesday's practice.
"We'll go through practice (on Wednesday) and we'll take it from there," Brodeur said. "I don't know what's going to happen with the morning skate on Thursday -- if we'll even have one. I'm sure they'll make a decision after practice (Wednesday)."
Whatever the decision, Brodeur's teammates will be looking to snap out of their recent 1-2-0 slide with or without their 10-time NHL All-Star in net.
"He's the best in the world at his position, there's nobody better," Devils forward Dainius Zubrus
said. "When you get a player of that caliber in the lineup, it gives you a much better chance to win games. But it's also good to know that we did pretty well without him and we were able to put it behind us because he was out for a long time. We really didn't think about it, but to get someone back who plays at that level would make anyone better. That said, we still need to keep playing our game no matter who's in net."
Devils backup goalie Kevin Weekes
doesn't feel the mindset of the team changes with Brodeur in goal.
"I think our reality will change to some degree with him coming back and wanting to play," Weekes told NHL.com. "That's the one thing about Marty -- he's always itching to play and wants the net. It'll be interesting to see how much he does and doesn't play. Our mindset is pretty much the same, as you can see in the way we practice and the way we interact with each other."
Still, Weekes knows this year has been a little different than previous campaigns when Brodeur had totaled 70-plus games each season since 1997-98.
"It's kind of been a different dynamic the last year-and-half with me signing and Clemmer (Scott Clemmensen
) coming back and the two of us having a chance to play because, typically, no one else really has had an opportunity to play here for long stretches," Weekes admitted. "Now that he's back, I'm sure he'll want to make up for lost time and we'll just stand by whatever the coaches decide."
"The arm felt good (Tuesday) and, really, the best thing is knowing that it actually does feel good and that I can push it without thinking about it anymore. After an injury, you're always thinking about favoring something and I'm at a point right now where it's all reactionary; who cares where the puck goes. Everything is going in the right direction and I've discovered that this week more than any other time."
-- Martin Brodeur
There's no question, however, the Devils have earned a new-found respect for the way the entire organization has handled Brodeur's absence.
"Everyone understands now that it's not just a one-man team," Sutter said. "It's about having good goaltending and having good players in front of your goaltender. That's always been known inside the room and through the organization, but the people on the outside didn't see it that way. Now it's different, as well it should be."
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 Marty eventually breaks this record, it's going to be a tremendous honor, and it's something he should be very proud of," Sutter said. "But I also feel that every player that's played with him in the organization should be proud too because the individual awards are still about the team."
"As brilliant as they could be, one player doesn't define a good team," Weekes said. "I always go back to the Chicago Bulls when (Michael) Jordan played. If not for the players around him like (Dennis) Rodman, (John) Paxson and (Scottie) Pippen, he probably wouldn't have had those championships. Obviously, when Marty does come back, we'll have the winningest goalie of all time. But, that doesn't mean don't look at the other guys in the room. I think everyone in here has played a role in his success and I think it's been a two-way street. Oftentimes, the so-called experts don't really acknowledge or give credence to that fact.
"You look around our locker room and there are guys who are banged up or still injured -- guys I can't mention. I think more than anything, it was good for our confidence and to prove to a lot of those experts out there that the strength of a good team is just that -- the fact they play as a team."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com