Without Brodeur, Devils have a tough road ahead

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The New Jersey Devils have been criticized at times for their use of the much-maligned system known as the neutral-zone trap. But, with a goaltender of Martin Brodeur's caliber in net on a nightly basis, it is really hard to blame the Devils for using a strategy that, according to critics, has made the game boring.

In addition to being one of the most skilled goaltenders in the history of the game, Brodeur has earned the reputation as one of the most durable backstops as well. So, when the news came through last week that Brodeur will miss the next three-to-four months with a torn distal biceps in his left elbow, it was shocking to say the least.

The Devils' goaltending situation has been set in stone since the early 1990s, when Brodeur began his certain Hall-of-Fame career in the Garden State. The trap fits Jersey perfectly because, when it's working, it makes it difficult for the opposition to spend a great deal of time in the Devils zone. Less time in the offensive zone means less shots and that makes the game much easier for a netminder of Brodeur's skill level.

The Devils have gone 1-3-0 since Martin Brodeur's injury.
And it's nearly impossible to argue with the results, as the Devils have won three Stanley Cup titles with Brodeur between the pipes. He's also grabbed four Vezina Trophies as the league's top goaltender.

In fact, the franchise had very little success prior to the arrival of its legendary goaltender.

Since Brodeur joined New Jersey on a full-time basis for the 1993-94 campaign, the Devils have made the postseason in 13 of his 14 seasons, including a current streak of 11 consecutive playoff appearances. Prior to the Brodeur- era, the Devils franchise, which had stints in Kansas City and Colorado before moving to Jersey for the 1982-83 season, had made the playoffs in just six out of 19 seasons.

One thing that doesn't come as a shock is that New Jersey has struggled in its first week of action without Brodeur as the No. 1 goaltender. He left with the injury 27 minutes into his team's eventual 6-1 win over Atlanta on November 1, and the Devils have gone 1-3-0 since then.

Kevin Weekes has the unenviable task of filling in as the primary goaltender with Brodeur on the shelf. The 33-year-old Weekes has played for seven different teams in the NHL and hasn't been a full-time netminder since playing in 66 games with Carolina in 2003-04. He played in just nine games (five starts), during the 2007-08 campaign -- his first season as the Devils' second option to Brodeur.

Weekes is 1-2-0 since Brodeur's injury, while Scott Clemmensen lost his only game this season, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers in New Jersey's most recent game.

To say that the Devils rely on Brodeur too much is an understatement. Coming into 2008-09, he played in at least 70 games a year for each of the past 10 seasons. The current injury also caused his streak of consecutive regular- season starts to end at a career-high 51 games -- a streak that dated back to January 8 of last season.

It often seemed as though Brodeur was incapable of being injured for a lengthy period of time, but, at 36 years old, Jersey is finally learning that its franchise player is human after all.

The Devils are likely going to stick with Weekes as the No. 1 goaltender and hope they can stay in the Eastern Conference picture until Brodeur is ready to return in the second half. General manager Lou Lamoriello could opt to upgrade the goaltending situation through a trade, but he'll give Weekes a fair shake at the starting job before going down that road.

While the Devils lament the loss of one of the league's premier puck-stoppers, the rest of the Atlantic Division will hope to pounce on their rival's misfortune. Brodeur has made wins against his Devils hard to come by since the early '90s, and no teams have struggled with this fact more than Jersey's divisional opponents.

In fact, when the Devils play the rival New York Rangers on Wednesday night it will mark the first time Brodeur hasn't started for New Jersey against the Blueshirts since November 5, 2005 -- a stretch of 21 meetings between the clubs.

The NHL also can't be thrilled about losing Brodeur to injury this year, as he was slated to break at least one league record during the 2008-09 campaign. Brodeur has 544 career wins and is just seven victories shy of tying fellow Montreal native Patrick Roy for the league's all-time mark. He is also just five shutouts away from matching Terry Sawchuk's record of 103 career blankings.

What the Devils will do to cope without Brodeur is to stay the course as far as the trap system goes, and try to give Weekes and Clemmensen a chance to keep their club in the game. New Jersey will also have to pick up the scoring, as the Devs have scored just 37 goals through their first 14 games of the season.

If the Devils can make the playoffs without Brodeur at their disposal for most of this season, it will certainly be no small feat. After all, the team is built around his skills and it's uncertain as to how they'll react with him out of the lineup for an extended period of time.

New Jersey has stumbled so far with Brodeur out of the lineup, but that's to be expected since the club hasn't played very much hockey without him since the early years of the Clinton administration. But, if the Devils haven't figured out how to win without Marty by this time next month, hockey fans in Jersey are in for a long season.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo
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