— It would be hard to call playing in back-to-back games a groove, especially for someone who hadn't done it in nearly two years, but Kevin Weekes
is starting to get comfortable in his new role as the New Jersey Devils
' No. 1 goalie.
Weekes picked up his first win of the season Wednesday night, a 4-3 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning
. It was one that he and the Devils needed so they could begin to move beyond the devastating news that Martin Brodeur
will be out for 3 to 4 months.
"One of the main principles of this organization is it has always been about the club," Weekes said following his 24-save performance. "It just so happens that we have Marty from an individual standpoint, but he'd be the first to tell you a lot of his role is based on the team's success and organization's success. It has always been about the collective here. The best goalie in the world is no longer here now and we certainly miss him, but our strength is in numbers and we have to continue to believe in that."
WHAT FANS ARE SAYING
"I’ve got the Devils/Tampa Bay game on right now..."
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"What's with the Lightning and OT this season, anyway..."
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The Devils were derailed Tuesday with the news that Brodeur needed surgery to repair a torn tendon in his biceps and that he would be out until at least late February — and quite possibly longer.
While Tuesday was basically a day of coping with the shock, Wednesday was the day that began the healing process. Picking up a win while staring in the face a major injury may go a long way toward defining the Devils this season.
"We're a good team," Devils coach Brent Sutter
stressed. "When injuries become a part of situations and part of your hockey team you have to have your foundation and your structure. How you play is very important. You can't waver from that. It's almost like your security blanket because you can fall back on that. No matter what is going on around your team, you always have that. It's your identity."
For the past 15 years, the Devils' identity has been about defense — and Wednesday night was no different. They allowed only 23 shots in regulation and just one even-strength goal, though Tampa Bay did score twice on the power play in the third period. The second goal, by Martin St. Louis
with 3:20 left in regulation and 90 seconds after Jay Pandolfo
put the Devils ahead, sent the game into overtime.
And when the Devils needed their goalie to come up big, he did.
Following the scoreless overtime, Vincent Lecavalier
beat Weekes with a brilliant hesitation move in the first round of the shootout. But the goalie rebounded to stop Jussi Jokinen
and Vaclav Prospal
to give the Devils a chance.
tied the shootout in the second round by beating Mike Smith
and Jamie Langenbrunner
won it in the third, beating Smith with a deke and a forehand. It was Weekes' 99th career victory, his first shootout win as a Devil, his fifth overall and first since April 4, 2006, when he played for the Rangers.
"Everybody is talking about Marty being down and it's a big thing, but in here we have to focus on what we have and Weeksie is doing a good job," said Elias, one of the Devils who was clearly thrilled that Weekes got the first win out of the way. "They scored first in the shootout but he stuck in it and that shows poise on his part."
Now that he's entrenched as the No. 1 goalie, Weekes can turn his mindset into playing a role that he hasn't had since 2003-04, when he played in 66 games for the Carolina Hurricanes
He said that shouldn't be difficult seeing that he has always thought of himself as a No. 1 goalie even though he has spent the last three seasons backing up Henrik Lundqvist
in New York and then Brodeur.
"Realistically, practice-wise I have never felt any different because I'm still the same person and the same goalie that I was when I was playing all those games," Weekes said.
"I haven't changed the perception of myself based on my role."
Until Monday's 2-0 loss to Buffalo, Weekes hadn't started a game since Jan. 5. Brodeur had started in 56 straight, including five in the playoffs last spring and the first 10 games this season.
The Devils, though, signed Weekes to a two-year contract two summers ago to not only back up Brodeur, but to be the experienced goalie who could replace him should disaster strike — like it did this past Saturday night when Brodeur overextended his left arm to make a save with his catching glove.
While losing Brodeur is like a punch to the stomach for most Devils' fans and even their players, coaches and executives, having a veteran backup has helped speed up the healing and moving forward processes.
"I think it's a great opportunity for him. I have a lot of confidence in Weeksie," Sutter said. "Did we think this would happen to Marty Brodeur? No, we didn't. No one can project injuries, but it's always nice to have experience if something does happen and we do have experience."
Even though Brodeur is a master with the puck and has been labeled a third defenseman by many, Sutter said the Devils' defensive philosophy will not change with Weekes, who is obviously not as skilled or adept at playing the puck as Brodeur.
Wednesday's game was an indication that it wouldn't.
"You have to dictate how (the game) is going to be played and that has a lot to do with our forecheck and how we play without the puck," Sutter said. "None of this changes because you have a different goaltender. The only thing that does change is the goaltender is different in certain aspects as far as one goalie plays the puck better than the other, but you still have to keep your scoring chances down. That's the responsibility of the other five guys on the ice. You still have to do a good job with your specialty teams. That's the responsibility of the other guys on the ice."
Weekes now has the responsibility of preparing as a No. 1 goalie.
"I have to hydrate a lot more, especially for how hot the buildings are nowadays with all the TV lights," Weekes said. "That's the biggest difference, being conscience of that and maybe picking my spots at the end of practice and before practice a little more."
Sutter is also encouraged by the fact that Weekes has spent the last season-plus working side by side with not only Brodeur, who the coach called "the best that's ever played the game," but also with goalie coach Jacques Caron
"He's someone that has been here and played with Marty and had Jacques to tutor him and help him through the process," Sutter said, "because he is a different goalie today than he was last year when he first came in."
Weekes said Caron has taught him to be loose and to have fun with the game. No goalie in the last 15 years has been looser or more successful than Brodeur, who always says he wants to play as much as he does — at least 70 games in each of the past 10 seasons — because of how much fun he has.
"I have always enjoyed coming to the rink and have enjoyed being a student of the game, but Jacques is big on being loose," Weekes said. "If you practice hard, which we do, just go out and do what you do in practice and try to have fun with it."
"Everybody is talking about Marty being down and it's a big thing, but in here we have to focus on what we have and Weeksie is doing a good job" -- Patrik Elias
It's been 15 years since someone other than Brodeur could be called the Devils' No. 1, but that man is Weekes, at least for now — and the Devils ushered in his era Wednesday night.
It may only last until March, but the games won't matter then if Weekes isn't good now.
"I am just doing my job," Weekes said. "This is Marty's team. Everybody knows what he means to the game and what he's done for this organization. This is a part of my role and it just so happens that I have top lay a lot more now than I did before."