November 4, 2008 was an important day for the Devils franchise - it was confirmed that Martin Brodeur would require surgery for his torn left bicep, which he injured on November 1, and that would force him out of action for at least 4 months. With Chere coming right out in the post title and saying that Brodeur will return on Thursday, and Gulitti reporting that Brodeur is targetting the Colorado game, I think it's a good time as any to look back to early November.
One of the big benefits of writing a blog is that not only do you get your thoughts out of your head and onto some sort of media for others to read; but they also store them. You can go back to them and check to see if those original feelings and thoughts were warranted. On the night of November 4, I wrote quite a lot about how I felt about the Devils, how big it was to lose Brodeur, and what I felt the team needed to do. Fortunately, the events since then have proven a lot of the concerns and worries expressed in that post - and maybe you shared some of those same feelings - to be thankfully unnecessary.
First and foremost, my main hope was that the Devils would keep pace in the Eastern Conference and be able to stay in the playoff hunt when Brodeur would return. I am very happy to be wrong about that. As of yesterday, the Devils will have to do worse than 6-16-0 to miss the playoffs according to Mirtle's latest figures. New Jersey is in first in the Atlantic with an 8 point lead. Forget the making the playoffs, they can take the division!
With respect to Brodeur, he doesn't have to be Superman in March. He just needs to be, well, himself. Which is excellent for both the team and Brodeur.
Second, I called for the Devils to score more goals. This demand has certainly been met! Just look at the team stats at NHL.com. The Devils currently have an average goals scored per game of 2.95, which is the highest average since 2001. The power play is also effective sometimes, with a 19.6% success rate. That's the fourteenth best power play in the league right now. Yes, the Devils are in the top half on the power play!
Zach Parise and Patrik Elias have been very productive and are among the league's top scorers. The effort has been helped by Travis Zajac's excellent season, Jamie Langenbrunner's resurgence, and a consistent lineup from Brent Sutter. Regardless of the past week, the Devils actually have two scoring lines that can, well, score! It's been great to witness and I don't see any reason why that will change anytime soon.
Third, Paul Martin has really led the defense here to be solid in front of Clemmensen and Weekes. I pick out Martin because, as Gulitti points out, the team's defense isn't all that good without him. Consider this past week; or even the past two games. Still, it's a unit that only allows 29.2 shots against on average, which is still tenth best in the league - including the last two 40-shot-against performances. Moreover, it's a group that works well together when Martin is out there. Colin White and Bryce Salvador provides the punishing defense, Martin and Johnny Oduya are two-way defenders who do very well at getting back in position, and Mike Mottau and Andy Greene have been good complementary defenders. It's a good unit. I asked for the defense to play well, and this past week notwithstanding, it has been doing just that.
Fourth, I just hoped that Kevin Weekes would get the support he needed and would do well enough in relief. And that Scott Clemmensen would be able to handle being a backup more often for Weekes than he ever was for Brodeur. As it turned out, I got that backwards. I didn't expect it initially, but Scott Clemmensen has shown himself worthy to be a starting goaltender in this league. He's played the majority of these Brodeur-less games and has done far better than I would have expected. Weekes, to his credit, didn't get disgruntled in essentially backing up Clemmensen and he has played very well when he does start games (especially recently).
There has been no need to bring in a rental goaltender. The organization trusted in Clemmensen and Weekes, and they have come through. Sure, both goalies have flaws, but you can't argue against the results. The fans have been excellent in supporting them when they were out there. They could have worried or unhappy with either taking the net. Now, the Devils have the happy problem of having two good goaltenders with Martin Brodeur returning to make it three!
Fifth, and lastly, I said this at the end of all of those words:
But the sun will still come up, the night will still come upon us, and there are hockey games to play - and they can be won. Let's go, Devils.
Truly, success in the regular season can occur without Brodeur. Doubters can go look at the standings for evidence. I (and likely a lot of Devils fans) defintiely prefer Brodeur to be there, especially for the playoffs. But the organization is truly more than just one player.
I'm confident that the return of Martin Brodeur will be great for the Devils. I'm certainly not going to bet against a future Hall of Famer and the best goaltender the tri-state area has ever seen. But considering what I thought then now, I am very thankful and appreciative of the team's success from November onwards.