Thankfully, the month is over and fortunately, the season isn't over just yet. Because this one ended with a steep drop in results, a 5 game winless streak, and a monthly record of 7-6-1. All of this after starting the month at 6-1-0!
The Devils did incredibly well to start. With the return of Martin Brodeur on February 26, it looked to be the month of continued Devils dominance. It started off as best as it could be: a 3-0 win over the rival Philadelphia Flyers. That game was Martin Brodeur's 100th shutout and the first of two he'd get this month. The winning ways continued with an overtime win in Toronto, capped by a daring effort from Johnny Oduya. Yet, the Islanders provided a rude awakening, however, catching the Devils off guard and lighting them up 7-3.
What was the Devils response to this big loss at the time? A 4 game winning streak ending with some history! Excellent! First it was Calgary at the Rock, then it was a cruising effort over Phoenix, and, wouldn't you know it, the Devils got to play in Montreal. Martin Brodeur in Montreal and a win would tie him with Montreal hero Patrick Roy in career wins. It's Marty in Montreal, so of course the Devils won. Lastly, Chicago's arrival meant little to the fans as the team helped Brodeur get that historic 552nd career win. Brodeur didn't just get the win that night, he cemented his place as a legend of the game and provided another massive achievement as a legendary player for the New Jersey Devils.
Fans had every right to feel good about the team after that one. Patrik Elias became the all time franchise scoring leader in that Chicago game. Zach Parise seemingly still had a chance at 50 goals. The Devils could win however they wanted.
This is where the month started to turn for the worse. The second loss of the month wasn't a big surprise. It was on the road in Carolina after the historic win and the Hurricanes caught the Devils 4-2, particularly devouring the Devils' PK units. After that one, the Devils would shutout Minnesota 4-0. It was a solid win with solid PK work, and the feeling was, "OK, time to get back on the winning side. Boston and Philly are next! Let's do it!"
But the woes of taking too many penalties/getting burned on the penalty kill returned, costing the Devils dearly against Boston and Philadelphia, losing both games. It would be the first time since January 6 and January 8 where the Devils lost two consecutive games. The Devils got some rest and perhaps that would lead to better performances, and of course, wins.
But it didn't! While the Devils didn't look bad, they got beat on mistakes in losing in Chicago in overtime and giving the game away to Carolina at the Rock for the team's first home loss this month (and in 11 home games, if I recall correctly). The only positive you really take from those games was that the Devils got a point, Brodeur looked good in those games, and that it wasn't special teams (read: the penalty kill) that were responsible for the loss. The Devils average-3-goals-a-game offense has seemingly gotten cold and the defense has allowed a lot of rubber to reach Brodeur. Yet, the Devils rested a little bit and figured they would get things going against the Rangers. Yes! Our Most Hated Rivals! The team we love to beat and who better to end a losing streak against!
That thought process was proven wrong last night. The game didn't go well. At all. The Devils played very poorly at MSG and deserved to lose to the Rangers 3-0. March began with a 3-0 win and one loss in their first 7 games. It ends with a 5 game winless streak, one win in their last 7 games, and a 3-0 loss to the team we hate the most.
The Devils did clinch a playoff spot this month; but the division is now with some doubt with Philadelphia looming in the distance. The hope and positive feeling the fans had after the game on March 17 has been replaced with questions and confusion over how the Devils can end this slump. I'm sure Brent Sutter and Lou Lamoriello are asking similar questions. Needless to say, the Devils have to respond because slumping in the playoffs almost guarantees an early exit.
As far as who the Devil of the Month was in March, can it be anyone but Martin Brodeur? Even in the Devils' 5 losses, Brodeur has been solid in net and he had to be! He only had 4 starts this month where he didn't face 30 or more shots, facing 127 over his last 3 games. Brodeur has had to work quite a bit and he has stopped 391 shots out of 422 this month, which comes out to a save percentage of 92.65% which is simply excellent. Adding to that is a good (considering the recent results) goals against average of approximately 2.38 and 2 shutouts over March. He is not at fault for the Devils' struggles in the last half of March. Brodeur has shown up to play and play very well throughout the whole month of March (except that Islanders game). I cannot honestly say the same for any other Devil. (Aside: I don't think Scott Clemmensen could do that, honestly.)
Oh, and there's that accomplishment of becoming the NHL's All-Time Winningest Goaltender. Kind of a big deal. And so I name Martin Brodeur the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for March 2009!
#30 / Goalie / New Jersey Devils
May 06, 1972
March 2009 Devil of the Month
March Record: 7-5-1 2.38 GAA, 92.65 Sv%, 2 SOs