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Devils 2013 Schedule Preview: Florida Panthers

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment
Henrique played hero in Game 7, scoring the game-winning goal to eliminate the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Quarter-finals. Photo Credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America

Henrique played hero in Game 7, scoring the game-winning goal to eliminate the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Quarter-finals. Photo Credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America

With the lockout done and the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We stay in the Southeast Division today for a look at the Florida Panthers.

You could the Florida Panthers’ 2011-12 season The Surprise of Sunrise.

No one figured the Panthers would contend for a playoff spot, nevertheless a division title. With rookie coach Kevin Dineen behind the bench, and a lineup featuring a collection of interesting pieces to strengthen the roster. Florida burst out of the gate, led by the trio of Kris Versteeg, Thomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss. Brian Campbell, who waived his no trade clause to come to the perennial sub-.500 club, collected 53 points along the blue line. They held off the Washington Capitals late season charge, securing the organization’s first division title and first postseason trip since 2000.

They gave New Jersey their best shot, bowing out in a seven-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series. With a pool of young players ready to make an impact, and the core largely intact from a season ago, the Panthers may once again be a competitive team in the Southeast Division.

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Devils 2013 Schedule Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Anton Volchenkov, usually known for his big hits, collected three assists against Carolina last season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

Anton Volchenkov, usually known for his big hits, collected three assists against Carolina last season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

With the lockout done and the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kicked things off with a look at two Northeast division teams, but today we’ll move south for our preview of the Carolina Hurricanes.

There’s a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite missing the postseason for the third straight season, and finishing last in the Southeast Division, the Hurricanes were one of the teams itching for the lockout to end. A draft-day trade for Jordan Staal gives the team a big weapon down the middle, and the addition of sniper Alex Semin could turn into one of the best bargain signings by general manager Jim Rutherford.

Kirk Muller took over after a 4-10-2 November swoon last season, and brought the Hurricanes back from dead. At one point, the team sat just five points out of the playoffs before losing four of their last five games.

Carolina had a ton of momentum carrying them before the lockout. Can they find it again and contend for a spot in the top eight?

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Devils 2013 Schedule Preview: Boston Bruins

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment
David Krejci recorded six points against New Jersey in just four games last season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

David Krejci recorded six points against New Jersey in just four games last season. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

With the lockout all but done*, and the framework of the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kick it off today with a look at the Boston Bruins.

The Stanley Cup hangover was alive and well in Beantown last year. After winning the organization’s first championship since the 1971-72 team, the Bruins stumbled out of the gate, finishing with the worst opening month for a defending champion since the playoff format changed in 1994.

That all changed, though, as Boston found its footing. The Bruins finished with a 49-29-4 record, winning the Northeast Division and completing a second straight 40-win, 100-point season. They lost in the quarterfinals, falling in seven games to the Washington Capitals.

The Bruins had the most overseas players during the lockout, and welcome back the likes of Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and a healthy Nathan Horton. But the big question will be in between the pipes, where Tuukka Rask takes over as the team’s number one goalie.

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Devils 2011-12 Schedule Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Mattias Tedenby played hero on the February 8 matchup, scoring two goals en route to a 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The mention of the Carolina Hurricanes still paints a painful picture in the minds of every New Jersey Devils’ fan. Just two short years ago, the Carolina scored two goals in 80 seconds to knock New Jersey out of the playoffs. Since then, New Jersey hasn’t found success in the playoffs. Their meetings, however, are definitely more heated.

The ‘Canes came up just short of the playoffs last season, missing out by one point. The Devils helped hold them back, winning three of four against them. Carolina lost one of the faces of their franchise, but has another upcoming. Always a playoff contender, the Devils will once again face a tough test against their southern rivals.

The History Behind The Matchup

In 113 meetings, New Jersey is 58-41-2 with 12 ties against Carolina. They’ve averaged 3.19 goals for during the head-to-head matchup (360 total) and only allow 2.96 goals against per meeting (335 total). They’re the only opponent that’s played over 100 games against the Devils and averaged less than three goals per game.

The Devils and Canes squared off four times last season, all between January and February. Carolina took the first meeting, 6-3, on New Year’s Day in Raleigh. Tuomo Ruutu opened the scoring, finding the back of the net on the powerplay just 1:48 into the first period. Jeff Skinner made it 2-0 at 4:28 of the opening frame, and Sergei Samsonov stretched the lead to three with a powerplay tally at the eight minute mark. The goal chased Martin Brodeur, who recorded just four saves. The two teams traded scores later in the period, and Carolina entered the break ahead 4-1.

The scoring wouldn’t end there. Travis Zajac scored 49 seconds into the second period, closing the gap to 4-2. Samsonov would score another powerplay goal, this one at 8:42 of the middle frame, to put the lead back to three. The teams traded goals again in the third, ending the game in a Hurricanes win. Ruutu added insult to injury, recording four points in just that game.

The Devils evened the season series, winning 3-2 in overtime on February 8 at the Prudential Center. Skinner opened the scoring in the second period, converting on a powerplay at 9:22 for a 1-0 lead. It was a short-lived lead. Mattias Tedenby tied the game, 1-1, at 11:31 of the middle frame. Skinner put his team ahead, 2-1, on yet another powerplay goal, this at 8:37 of the third period. Another Devils rookie, Nick Palmieri, tied the game at two at 17:06 of the final frame. It would be a rookie playing hero in overtime for the win:

Johan Hedberg stopped 20 shots for the win. Cam Ward stopped 31 shots in the loss.

Just eight days later, the two teams squared off again at the Prudential Center. The Devils skated away with another 3-2 win. Ilya Kovalchuk broke a scoreless tie at 5:41 of the second period. They extended their lead quickly in the third period, with Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scoring in the opening two minutes to push the lead to 3-0. Carolina mounted a comeback, with Samsonov ending Hedberg’s shutout at 8:17 of the final period. Ruutu scored at 19:55 to pull the teams within one. That’s as close as they would get. Hedberg stopped 25 shots in the win, and Ward stopped 19 in the loss.

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Devils 2011-2012 Schedule Preview: Calgary Flames

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Hedberg laid out to stop Niklas Hagman on his shootout attempt. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Calgary Flames.

The New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames came together to form one of the more interesting games two years ago. Flames’ head coach Brent Sutter, who failed to lead New Jersey past the first round as coach, left the team. He cited the need to be near his family and the Red Deer Rebels. Shortly after that, he signed on to coach Calgary. That led to an interesting meeting at the Prudential Center, but one that went without any real incident.

Since then, the matchup faded back to it’s usual ho-hum nature. As with most of the teams from the Western Conference, there isn’t much hatred between the two teams. The matchup, however, still offers some intrigue. Here’s why you should watch this year’s matchup between the two teams.

The History Behind The Matchup

In 92 games against Calgary, New Jersey is 24-56-1 with 11 ties. Their .326 point percentage is the worst historically among all opponents. The Devils allow 3.89 goals per matchup (358 total) and score just 2.71 goals per matchup (249 total).

The team’s faced off once last season, on November 24 at the Prudential Center. The matchup came during the Devils only hot streak of the first half, and ended in a 2-1 shootout victory for the Devils. David Clarkson opened the scoring, tipping home a Mattias Tedenby shot at 13:06 of the first period. Matt Corrente held the puck at the blueline, skating it toward the center of the zone. His shot hit Tedenby in the slot, but the rookie found the puck and fired it on net. Clarkson deflected it past Henrik Karlsson for the lead.

Calgary wouldn’t go easily, tying the game just 1:18 into the third period. Mark Giordano held the puck near the blueline, shooting the puck toward the net. Rene Bourque came skating across the slot and tipped the puck past Johan Hedberg for the game-tying goal. Both teams remained scoreless until the shootout, where Ilya Kovalchuk would take care of business:

That was the first time the Devils strung together two wins in a row. They wouldn’t find that type of success again until January.

This Season’s Matchup

The Flames didn’t make any big splashes in free agency this offseason. They tried for Brad Richards, but ended up as one of the losers in that sweepstakes. They re-signed Anton Babchuk and Brendan Morrison, and recently added defenseman Scott Hannan.

The Devils and Flames trade some spare parts as well. Calgary acquired Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from New Jersey for a 2012 fifth-round draft pick.

Both teams face off once this season, on January 10 in Calgary.

Stat Pack

In 15 games against the Flames, Martin Brodeur is just 7-5-0 with three ties. He’s carrying a 2.17 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage…In 16 games against New Jersey, Flames’ captain Jarome Iginla has 12 points. Just one of them, however, is on the powerplay.

Devils 2011-2012 Schedule Preview: Buffalo Sabres

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Kovalchuk led the Devils to their only win against the Buffalo Sabres this season. Photo Credit: Bill Wippert/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres.

Usually, the Buffalo Sabres stay out of the limelight during the offseason. But since late last year, the only successful team from the Buffalo area made a ton of noise. First, billionaire Terry Pegula purchased the team, brining a wealthy owner to a usually frugal team. They made some noise in the playoffs, but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. That would be one of their only disappointments.

With Pegula backing the team, Buffalo went on an offseason spending spree. They became, for the first time in recent memory, big spenders. Nobody was surprised; Pegula promised to pay for a quality team. An already good team added some key pieces. It’ll be a different team on the ice taking on New Jersey this season.

The History Behind The Matchup

The Devils have faced the Sabres 132 times, and haven’t fared well against them. New Jersey is 47-65-3 with 17 ties, allowing 448 goals against, or 3.39 goals per game. They’ve only scored 380 goals against Buffalo, good for 2.88 goals per game.

The two teams faced off four times last season, with New Jersey compiling a 1-2-1 record. They first met on October 13 in a game that became a duel between Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller. Both goalies stood on their heads, matching each other save for save. In overtime, rookie Matt Taormina set up Ilya Kovalchuk for a game-winning one-timer deep in the Sabres zone. The puck rang off the crossbar before finding it’s way to the back of the net. That marked the first win of John MacLean’s coaching career. Too bad he wouldn’t lead the team to many more.

Buffalo evened the series just 10 days later, blowing out the Devils, 6-1, at the Prudential Center. Drew Stafford started the scoring, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead at 6:57 of the first period. Tyler Myers extended the lead to 2-0 at 16:33 of the opening frame. They poured it on in the second period, scoring three times. Tyler Ennis pushed the Sabres’ lead to 3-0 at 3:10 of the middle period. Patrick Kaleta stretched the lead to four at 8:17 of the period, chasing starter Johan Hedberg.

Brodeur couldn’t stop the bleeding. Thomas Vanek made it 5-0 at 18:12. Vanek scored again in the third period, making it 6-0. Zach Parise broke the shutout, scoring at 11:25 of the period. Miller finished with 26 saves. The game was more known for the infamous benching of Kovalchuk.

The teams played another high scoring game on November 10, with Buffalo winning, 5-4, in a shootout. Jason Arnott opened the scoring, putting the Devils ahead, 1-0, at 10:12 of the first period. That lead wouldn’t last. Jason Pominville tied the game, 1-1, at 5:22 of the second period. Derek Roy wasted no time in giving Buffalo the lead, scoring 13 seconds later to give his team a 2-1 advantage. The Devils answered right back. David Clarkson tied the game, 2-2, at 7:58 of the middle period. Arnott struck again, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead at 12:01.

The see-saw battle would continue. Myers evened the score, 3-3, at 13:50 of the second period. Jamie Langenbrunner responded, putting the Devils ahead, 4-3, at 18:01 of the second period. New Jersey once again failed to hold their lead. Ennis tied the game at four at 8:54 of the third period. Both teams moved to the shootout, where Vanek and Langenbrunner both scored. Roy put his team ahead, and set up one of the worst moments for Kovalchuk this season:

Jhonas Enroth stopped 28 shots for the win. Hedberg stopped 38 in the loss.

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An Analysis of the Johan Hedberg Signing

Hedberg recorded a career-best 2.38 goals against average and was given the Player's Player award. Photo Credit: Justin Aller/Getty Images

Last year, the New Jersey Devils watched Johan Hedberg save their season, posting a career-best 2.38 goals-against average. He more than earned the $1.5 million (plus bonuses) he signed for last July. It was only logical that Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted the goalie back.

While the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement before July 1, Lamoriello didn’t let Hedberg stay on the market long. He re-signed “The Moose” to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. Getting a fan favorite back excited plenty fans. Bringing back a solid player with for less than he made last year made the signing even better. Lamoriello definitely earned himself some praise with this move.

At the beginning of last season, I laid out my expectations for Hedberg. I expected him to be a solid backup, and pegged him as a streaky goalie. Martin Brodeur just came off a season where he played 77 games and returned to Vezina form. I figured Hedberg would start between 12-15 games, so he wouldn’t be too important. But, of course, things didn’t play out that way. Brodeur fought through injuries and inconsistent play, limiting him to just 56 games played. Desperately needing some solid goaltending, the Devils leaned on Hedberg. The Moose wouldn’t disappoint.

Hedberg became one of two Devils to actually play solid hockey until John MacLean. He kept the team in the game, stringing together quality starts. He once allowed his goals-against average to climb north of 3.00, and that month Brodeur came back from injury. When Jacques Lemaire took over, he played even better. Hedberg reeled off 7 straight wins during February, recording a 1.43 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. Fans serenaded him with chants of “Moose” during home games, and antler hats started popping up around the arena.

The good times wouldn’t last, as Brodeur eventually won back his spot. The appreciation shown by both fans and teammates wouldn’t end with him moving back to the bench. In addition to the praise of Devils’ fans, Hedberg’s teammates gave him the Player’s Player award. Everyone in the organization appreciated his contribution, and he rewarded them with a stellar season.

Hedberg once again made a personal sacrifice to join the Devils. Last year, he left his wife and daughter in Atlanta to play in New Jersey. He admitted he didn’t like it, and I’m surprised he chose the Devils again. When a player is willing to give up living near his immediate family to play for your team, it speaks volumes to the respect he must have for New Jersey. Even without a coach, he made the sacrifice to return to the team.

Just like last season, this is a low-risk signing. I don’t want to speculate on games played, because only Brodeur knows how much he’ll play next season. He proved a more than capable backup, and could form a solid goalie tandem if the new coach decides to use one.

It’ll be another year of Moose calls at the Rock. For fans and players, it’ll be another year to enjoy a quality teammate and positive locker room presence.

An Evaluation of the Andy Greene Signing

Greene, who recently signed a four year, $12 million contract, will need to improve on his 21 points last season. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Free agency opened four days ago, and the New Jersey Devils have yet to sign someone new.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello opted to retain his own players, re-signing both Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg. He managed to re-sign Hedberg for just $1.25 million, a $250,000 reduction from his base salary last season. Greene, however, cashed in big time.

Lamoriello signed Greene to a four year, $12 million deal Friday. He’ll carry a $3 million cap hit, which isn’t terrible considering the other ridiculous contracts handed out to similar players. But he officially took one-fourth of this season’s remaining cap space. Is $3 million a stretch? While it’s not perfect, it’s a contract that the Devils can support – and possibly trade.

Greene had a terrible contract season last year, recording a minus-24 through the first three months of the season. When Jacques Lemaire took over, he turned around tremendously, playing to a plus-1 for the remainder of the season. We all know that plus/minus is a flawed statistic, so that point alone can’t determine the validity of the huge pay increase.

The Devils leaned on Greene last season, putting him in their top three defenseman. His 22:21 of ice time ranked third, with 1:16 TOI on the powerplay and 2:19 TOI on the penalty kill. He turned in decent numbers during special teams play, but his even strength numbers were terrible. He carried a minus-.83 rating, becoming the only defenseman to carry a negative rating. New Jersey averaged just 1.61 goals for per 60 and a 2.66 Corsi rating. Both those numbers jumped with him off the ice, a clear indictment of his play.

There’s no doubt that Greene could be an effective second or third pairing defenseman. But there’s no shot he’ll ever be the team’s best offensive defenseman. He recorded a career-high 37 points two seasons ago. That’s it. He plays in an offensively-depressed system, but that excuse can only stretch so far. Maybe his numbers dropped because of the Devils’ terrible first half, but that’s yet another excuse. If he’s making $3 million to be an offensive defenseman, then he needs to produce.

However, it’s not the worst deal Lamoriello ever made. Greene is overpaid, no doubt about it. But look at some of the other crazy contracts handed out. James Wishniewski will make $5.5 million despite having no long-term, proven success. Christian Erhoff will make $4 million in a ten-year deal with the Sabres. Hell, even Steve Montador will average $2.75 million, and he’s not a great puck-moving, offensive defenseman. When you look at those ridiculous deals (both in cap hit and length), the signing doesn’t seem terrible.

In the next three to four years, the Devils defense will undergo a dramatic change. Both Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina will fight for roster spots next season. Rookies Alexander Urbom and (maybe) Adam Larsson will push veterans. Colin White and Bryce Salvador, two defensive stalwarts, may play their last season in a Devils uniform. Greene will quickly become the veteran among a greener blue line. That leadership could prove invaluable.

If all else fails, Greene’s contract will be attractive trade bait. Apparently, his agent fielded calls from “Stanley Cup contenders” during the opening of free agency.  If Lamoriello needed to trade him, his $3 million cap hit wouldn’t be detrimental.

Greene isn’t an earth-shattering signing, and hopefully will improve. If he slides back down the depth chart, his stats will improve. But Greene will never be the best offensive defenseman on this team. He needs to, once again, become a solid producer in the lineup.

The Moose Returns: Devils Re-Sign Hedberg

July 1, 2011 1 comment

Hedberg recorded a career-best 2.38 goals-against average last season. He returns to New Jersey on another one-year deal. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

“The Moose” is back.

The New Jersey Devils re-signed unrestricted goalie Johan Hedberg to a one-year contract. Lamoriello wanted to re-sign Hedberg, and began talks last week with his agent. They couldn’t reach a deal before the noon deadline, and Hedberg hit the open market. Several teams were interested, but Hedberg wanted to stay with New Jersey.

“There was interest, which is great,” Hedberg told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It’s flattering, but with everything accounted for, I felt good about coming back here. That was my first choice and when everything worked out and it felt like we were able to find some good ground I felt good about coming back.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hedberg apparently took less money to return to New Jersey.

“We were discussing numbers,” Hedberg told Gulitti. “It’s so hard. This is a tough day. There’s so much to take into consideration. Money isn’t everything for me. I just want to feel that I’m getting fairly treated. When I felt that was the case, I was happy to sign. Like I said, that was my No. 1 choice and when we could agree on something that made sense to me I really wanted to do it.”

Hedberg, who turned 38 on May 5, went 15-12-2 last season. He recorded a career-best 2.38 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts. He made $1.5 million (plus bonuses) last season.

Although he didn’t like being away from his family, Hedberg will once again leave his wife and daughter to return to New Jersey.

“That was one of the things too that I had to take into consideration if it could be what I could justify to myself to do,” Hedberg told Gulitti. “But I think it’s going to work out for the best. I still want to play. I still feel like I can contribute and I still feel I’ve got some good years ahead of me, so I don’t want to just not do anything. We’re going to do it liek thsi for now and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, it will be good.”

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The 2010-2011 Player Review: Martin Brodeur

Brodeur once again battled injury, failing to start 60 games for the second time in three seasons. Photo Credit: Jonathan Klein/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Martin Brodeur.

Despite the immense amount of change throughout the organization this summer, one constant remained – Martin Brodeur. The New Jersey Devils goalie entered his 17th straight season as the unquestioned number one goalie, looking to break (and extend) more records. After finishing a healthy 2010 campaign, one in which he finished third in the Vezina voting, many expected Brodeur to continue his dominance. As a matter of fact, I wrote this in my season preview:

Year in and year out, the Devils never stress about one position – goalie. We all know Brodeur will stand between the pipes and play most of the team’s games this season. While the question has been asked this preseason as to whether or not Brodeur will rest more, we all know what he’ll do this season. Pencil Brodeur in for around 70-75 starts and a possible Vezina trophy.

There’s no real expectations for Johan Hedburg this season. He might get 12 to 15 starts, and he only needs to play well enough to keep the Devils in each game. But we can’t forget two years ago, when Brodeur went down with an injury. We don’t expect Hedberg to contribute much, but the possibility is still there.

Damn great job of foreshadowing. Brodeur once again suffered through an injury-plagued season, his second in the past three years. Terrible defensive play helped wreck his numbers, giving him his first ever sub-.500 season. It seemed he lost some of his luster, and I questioned whether or not Brodeur showed decline during the first half of the season.

Brodeur wouldn’t go down without a fight. Despite his abysmal first half, the future Hall-of-Famer rebounded during the team’s second half surge. He looked like the old Brodeur, snagging shots with his glove and making jaw-dropping saves. But even that second half couldn’t propel him to Brodeur-like stats. In the end, the Devils’ goalie slogged through one of his worst regular season campaigns.

Brodeur At Even Strength

Brodeur’s even strength numbers were the worst in four years. He can’t shoulder the blame for everything, as his performance directly ties into his stats. Still, the numbers aren’t pretty. In 56 games, Brodeur allowed 92 goals. That’s just 32 less than the 124 he allowed in total during the 2009-10 regular season, and he played in only 11 more games. He received little offensive support, with the team scoring 75 goals.

Predictably, the averages weren’t very good. The team averaged 1.78 goals for per 60 with Brodeur on the ice, but allowed 2.19 goals against per 60. That left the Devils’ goalie with a minus-0.4 rating. All three numbers are the worst in four years. It didn’t improve with him off the ice, as the team scored more (2.43 goals for per 60) but also allowed more goals (4.86 goals against per 60).

How much blame should Brodeur shoulder for his miserable even strength numbers? There were plenty of times when his defense left him out to dry this season. During the first half, it seemed every mistake became a goal. But it’s not completely the defense’s fault. Like every other player, Brodeur had a subpar first half of the season. He allowed several second chance opportunities game after game, and his glove hand looked slow.

Even the stellar second half couldn’t improve those numbers. From January to April, Brodeur played in 27 games (26 starts), posting a 1.72 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage. Yet that push still couldn’t get him to even average numbers. It’s amazing just how much he struggled during the first half of the season.

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