Rest, not records, bigger deal for Brodeur now
As goalie passes Roy, others, it's time for Devils to keep him on bench more
Instead of working to play 70-plus games again this season, columnist Mike Celizic would like to see goalie Martin Brodeur sit more games out on the bench so he can be fresh for the playoffs and extend his career.
The Devils have a backup goalie. His name is Kevin Weekes. This year, coach Brent Sutter should use him.
This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a mandate. If the Devils want all-world goalie Martin Brodeur to take them deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, they can no longer write his name in the line-up every day for weeks and even months at a time.
I realize this is a challenge for Sutter. He’s got a goalie who is on his way to a host of all-time NHL records this season, a goalie who hasn’t won fewer than 38 games in a season since 1996-97, a goalie who has taken just nine games off in the past two seasons combined, a goalie with a career 2.20 goals-against average, a goalie who makes an ordinary team and perennial contender.
For most of his stellar career, working 70-plus games a year has not been a problem for Brodeur. One of his goals going into every season is to play at least that many games, and he’s told New York reporters he figures on doing it again this year. That enormous workload is one of the reasons he is on the verge of breaking the career records for wins and games played goalie in this, his 16th season — two fewer seasons than it took Patrick Roy to establish the records.
But in the past two years, Brodeur, 36, has not been the same goalie late in the season and in the playoffs that he was in mid-season. Last spring against the Rangers in the first round, he looked more like an aging and tired journeyman than a Hall-of-Fame goalie whose lifetime goals-against-average in 169 playoff games is a microscopic 1.96 — .34 lower than Roy’s.
That Brodeur wore down wasn’t a surprise to anyone who watched the way the Devils rode him into the ice down the stretch. By the end of the season, he had played in 77 of the team’s 82 games. Weekes, Brodeur’s backup, appeared in just nine games all year, and down the stretch he was virtually invisible.
Sutter didn’t feel he had any choice but to start Brodeur every night. The Devils were locked in a desperate battle for the playoffs, just as they had been in 2006-07 when Brodeur started 78 of 82 games, and the Devils felt that their best chance of winning was to have him in goal.
Given how difficult it is for the Devils to score goals, the only way they were going to win was with defense and the best goalie in the game.
The strategy got the Devils into the playoffs. Last year, it also insured that they wouldn’t get out of the first round because Brodeur had nothing left in the tank.
The easy-going goalie is not a fitness freak, not a guy who lives in the weight room, not a guy who spends his off-seasons working out like crazy so that the long and grueling season won’t wear him down. His attitude has carried him to 538 career victories, just 13 fewer than Roy and a 2.20 career goals-against average; Roy’s is 2.54. It has also helped him rack up 96 career shutouts, seven fewer than the record 103 Terry Sawchuck amassed in 21 seasons.
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