The New Jersey Devils
may want to think about sending Mike Babcock a bottle of expensive champagne and a fine Cuban cigar.
Babcock's decision to bench Martin Brodeur
in favor of Roberto Luongo
during the Olympics looks like a blessing the Devils never expected, but absolutely appreciate considering how the future Hall of Famer is performing.
Since the Olympics ended, Brodeur is 5-2-0 with a 2.60 goals-against average. He was 5-9-2 with a 2.93 GAA in his final 16 appearances before the break. The 16 is notable because in the game before that stretch started, Brodeur made 51 saves in a 1-0 shootout win against the Rangers.
It's not often during the season that Brodeur, when healthy, goes eight-straight days without playing a game. He thinks that rest he unwillingly had over the second half of his stay with Team Canada in Vancouver is paying off.
"I think it's a combination of feeling a little better and maybe all that rest is paying off now," Brodeur told NHL.com Wednesday. "Definitely resting for eight days in a row without playing, it doesn't happen a lot for me. It wasn't really pure rest like these guys coming back with sun tans, but it was rest that right now is hopefully paying dividends."
Brodeur's struggles heading into the Olympics didn't go away when he got to Vancouver. He was good against Switzerland in a 3-2 shootout win, but he gave up four goals on 22 shots in a 5-3 loss to Team USA on the last day of the preliminary round.
Babcock, sensing Brodeur wasn't on top of his game, turned to Luongo. At the time Babcock's decision was a hard for Brodeur to swallow, but it doesn't seem so bad anymore. He is back on top of his game at the perfect time, with the Devils challenging for the Atlantic Division title and as high as a second seed in the playoffs.
Brodeur helped the Devils pull into a tie atop the Atlantic Division with Pittsburgh by stopping 24 shots Wednesday in New Jersey's 5-2 win over those Penguins. He showed just how in form he is by making an absolutely sparkling save on Mark Eaton
's wraparound attempt early in the third period, when he stretched his left arm across the goal mouth to stop the puck. Brodeur also fluidly moved across the crease to stone Ruslan Fedotenko
late in the first period, and while sitting down manage to get the inside of his left pad on Chris Kunitz
's low shot midway through the second.
"Everybody hit a little down there for a while there, and we understand it's the latter part of the season and we have teams behind us that are close to us and we needed to get going," Brodeur said. "I think it's partially the type of games, too. I'm getting a lot of shots in the first period and you have to get into the games and that helps a bit when you're looking to feel the puck a little more when you're not feeling as good. Sometimes when you don't get as many shots it's hard to feel it. It's been good so hopefully we can keep it going."
Brodeur, like most elite athletes, calls himself his own biggest critic. He knew he wasn't playing up to his standard, so he turned to Devils goalie coach Chris Terreri
, his former backup, for assistance.
"We've been talking a little more lately as far as my balance and a couple of different things that I could see in the way I was playing that I didn't really like," Brodeur said. "When you do well you don't tend to talk too much about your game, you just go with the flow a little more. I was asking him to watch me more closely in practice."
Terreri reported back to Brodeur that his balance wasn't right and he wasn't properly committing to the shooters. Brodeur also sought advice from his long-time goalie coach Jacques Caron
, who no longer works on a day-to-day basis with the team.
"There were not a lot of big things, but there were a few things," Brodeur said. "When I don't win I don't like it. I'm not a guy that is shy about trying to look and see what is going on. If there's a bad goal, I'm the first one to say if it's a bad goal. It's important to stay accountable to what you do out there."
Brodeur's recent surge is aided by his teammates playing better in front of him.
"When his mindset is as strong as it is now, that makes all of us feel more comfortable, and I think he sees that we have had a strong focus in the games he has played so that makes his job easier, as well," captain Jamie Langenbrunner
told NHL.com. "(Before the break) we were all in a wishy-washy situation, off in Never-Never land."
Brodeur, though, took the brunt of the criticism.
"It's just normal when you get to a status that people look at you and say, 'How come he's not doing it?'" Brodeur said. "Well, at the end of the day there are 82 games and stats will pan out and the results will come. There are goalies that can be the best goalies in the world for six games. It's doing it for a long period of time that counts."
It doesn't hurt to have a few days off in the middle, though.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl