NEWARK, N.J. – For the first time since leaving the Red Wings last summer, Damien Brunner is looking forward to finally facing some of his former Detroit teammates tonight at the Prudential Center.
“Yeah, should be a fun game with all of the faces that I know,” said Brunner, who was a healthy scratch when the Red Wings visited New Jersey in December. “It’s going to be a big game for us, I mean, we’re playing them back to back here and in the playoff race it’s going to be four big points on the line.”
The Devils trail Detroit by three points for the second and last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Brunner is far off his pace from a season ago when he produced 12 goals and 26 points in 44 games with the Red Wings. A knee injury followed by a charley horse last week against Columbus has minimized the Swiss forward’s productivity. He has nine goals and 17 points with a minus-11 rating in 42 games this season. However, since he was benched for a game against his former teammates on Dec. 6, Brunner has responded with nine points in his past 16 games.
“Well, after that game I started to play really well for about eight or 10 games I think it was,” he said. “Then I got injured and was out again. The comeback was OK but maybe was a little tired out from the rehab but I should be back on track.”
Brunner is expected to play tonight on the Devils’ second line with veteran Patrik Elias and center Adam Henrique, who have six points each since the Olympic break.
The transition from Detroit to New Jersey wasn’t easy for Brunner. He had made a number of friends on the Wings’ team, spending a lot of time away from the rink with Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and Pavel Datsyuk. And while living closer to New York City has its advantages, living in Hoboken, N.J. isn’t the same as the quiet Royal Oak community that he became accustom to.
“Playing for the Red Wings for me was just unreal,” Brunner said. “The dressing room is great, great guys around you. I miss Royal Oak, the area where I lived and the guys who were there with my like Abby and Smitty and Kuba and the road trips, movie time with Pasha. It’s also Joe Louis Arena. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, so the second game this week is in that building and I’m really looking forward to that too.”
The Devils will visit Joe Louis Arena this Friday for the last regular-season meeting of the year with the Red Wings.
Though he’s playing for a different organization, Brunner said he still feels for the Red Wings who have dealt with a season full of injuries, especially those to Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, whom he first played with in Switzerland during the NHL’s lockout in 2012.
“You never want to see that happen to any player, especially with the Olympics again with Z where I saw him and I talked to him a couple of times,” said Brunner, who played for Switzerland in the Sochi Games last month. “I felt really bad, and now I think Pavel’s knee is bad again and those are two key guys and top two centermen out. But if a team in this league can handle it it’s the Red Wings. They do a very good job and all the young guys filling in and they’ve been able to put some wins together.”
STINGY DEFENSE: The last time the Red Wings were in New Jersey they held the Devils to a franchise-low 11 shots on goal. Detroit won that game 3-1.
Since then, the Devils have been held to less than 20 shots three times but won twice.
“If they jump up into the rush they have a really good chance, otherwise, I think they’re thinking more defensively than anything else,” Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “I think it’s going to be a tight game tonight as well.”
TRADE RUMORS: With the league’s trade deadline set for 3 p.m. Wednesday, there’s been plenty of noise surrounding veteran goalie Martin Brodeur and whether tonight will be his final game for the Devils.
The owner of 683 career wins – which is the league’s all-time record that may never be equaled – Brodeur has stated his desire to be an everyday goalie, something he can be in New Jersey.
In his 21st season, Brodeur’s longevity is perhaps the most impressive among league goalies. Though he has struggled at times this season, he still has posted a 14-11-4 record with a 2.47 goals-against average for the Devils.
Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson is someone who can attest to the difficulties of leaving a franchise after so many seasons.
“I can’t speak for him,” Alfredsson said. “But if it’s a situation that’s mutually agreed upon I think everyone will be happy. I’m sure there’s a lot of factors in it.”
In the time that Brodeur has won three Stanley Cups and the Venzina Trophy four times, the Red Wings employed 23 goalies. He has posted winning records against 27 of 29 NHL clubs. Vancouver (6-12-0) and the Red Wings (9-9-0) are the only teams he doesn't have winning records against.
“When you look at the goaltenders of today and the size of the goaltenders and the hip injuries because of the butterfly, I don’t know if a guy can be as good as long as he’s been,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Obviously the style New Jersey has played and his ability to play the puck has helped him but he’s flat out been a star for a long, long time.
“When you’ve been this long with one team and you can retire with that team, you’ve hit it out of the park.”
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