Devils Starting Strong Without Brodeur
By Mike Luciano (@mikeluci)
The New Jersey Devils have four games under their belt and are off to an acceptable 3-1 start to their 2011-2012 NHL campaign. To the rest of the hockey world, it might be a little premature to start making a fuss of any kind over a team’s record at this point in the regular season. Considering how the Devils are looking to downplay running last year’s season into the ground early on, the Devils faithful aren’t taking anything for granted. A win now is just as significant as one would be in January or March because starting strong establishes a solid base to build upon.
Not only are the Devils manning an above .500 record for the first time since their 2009-2010 campaign, but their pleasant start was orchestrated during the absence of the franchise’s iconic goaltender, Martin Brodeur. New Jersey’s 3-0 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on opening night is the only full game Marty’s played so far, having to be relieved by backup Johan Hedberg early in the game against the Los Angeles Kings.
With Hedberg starting between the pipes, the Devils tackled some early season milestones that all teams want to get out of the way quickly. They earned their first wins in regulation, in a shootout, at home, and on the road. In addition, the Devils revisited and conquered a very familiar scenario; overcoming early game deficits, a glaring issue that last year’s squad was incapable of addressing. Those are some pretty uncharacteristic qualities about this team if you think, or want to dub them as a non-playoff squad. Hedberg’s three consecutive appearances leave him with a 3-0 record, during which he’s posted a 1.41 goals against average and .945 save percentage. It’d be wishful thinking to assume Hedberg will remain consistent with those numbers throughout the season. Devils fans should more so be comforted with their elderly backup getting off to a good start.
If what we’ve seen so far is any indication of what to expect from here on out, then Devils fans should also take comfort in knowing that their team is in the process of proving capable of winning games without their former and well-documented dependency on the presence and play of their longtime No. 1 net minder. In the weeks preceding this season, a lot of predictions having the Devils miss out on the playoffs cited goaltending as one of the main factors behind their projected shortcoming.
The only appropriate way to project the performances of the Devil’s veteran goaltending tandem is on a year-to-year basis going into the season, and on a game-by-game basis as the season progresses. Hedberg’s start is very encouraging because he’s continued the strong play from the second half of last season and is giving head coach Pete DeBoer all the more reason to confide in him early on. Brodeur is just off to an inconvenient start, considering how he’s among the more pressurized players on the team to have a rebound performance this season. With seventy-eight games to go, Marty has more than enough time to break into midseason form and can affordably endure another dissuading adjustment period, whether it’s due to reasons regarding health or shaking off the rust.
NOTES: A lot of fans have expressed a lot of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the six-day gap between Saturday’s game against the Predators and Friday’s game against San Jose. The Devils faithful hasn’t seen their team play in six months and are overly anxious to do so. I personally view this stretch of time in between games as a convenience for a few reasons. Topping the list is how this time will give the team’s banged up players like Brodeur (shoulder) and rookie Adam Larsson (foot) to recover and be one hundred percent for Friday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, one of the powerhouse teams of the Western Conference. Between now and Friday, the Devils will also get a combined eight games in hand over their four division rivals. This may not have much significance early in the season, but could be beneficial down the stretch if this team proves capable of winning their more meaningful games. A more obvious benefit of the break in between games is that the team gets a chance to regroup, build on their early successes, and take different approaches on addressing their inconsistencies, such as their productivity on the power play.
Out of the group of young guns that make up a large portion of the Devil’s roster, they’ve combined for a goal, six points, and a minus four in four games. Some of these young players will be looked upon to produce, while others are expected to have more conservative playing roles, but I’d say their contributions to the team’s 3-1 record have been nothing shorter than sufficient. Like I said in previous posts, the points will come as this group breaks into the NHL style of play.
Four games in, the Devils have combined for one-hundred three shots, thirty-four of which came from their defense corps. That makes the defense responsible for a third of the team’s shot totals thus far. As noted in the preseason, DeBoer wants his defensemen to get more involved in the offensive zone when the opportunities present themselves. The goals will come in time.