I was planning on writing this earlier this week, but I was a little busy with other events going on around SBN. Instead I'm writing it now. When Marty Brodeur went down with an injury in November, I honestly believed the Devils season was over. Thankfully the team had to find a new identity other than relying solely on the future Hall of Famer. Yes, they got very good goaltending from Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes. But they also assembled two very good and mostly consistent scoring lines in Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner and Elias-Zubrus-Gionta. The defense played better than it has really since Niedermayer and Rafalski both departed even though it was mostly a group of no-names (at least no names to anyone outside of NJ).
In short, the team started to forecheck more aggressively and started to produce a lot more scoring chances. I don't believe there is a better line in hockey at cycling the puck than the ZZ Pop line. Travis Zajac must win the Devils unsung hero award this year because I think that he has emerged as a legitmate number one National Hockey League pivot. And yeah, that might have happened had Brodeur remained healthy, but it largely happened without Marty's presence. I think that the Devils got more aggressive on the forecheck because they figured they didn't have anything to lose. Try and keep the puck in the opponents end and you won't have your most glaring new weakness exposed.
Beyond what happened to the team in Marty's absence, I think that the biggest thing that helps the Devils in Brodeur's return is that for the first time in many years, the Devils will get a very rested version of their future Hall of Famer come playoff time. On the telecast tonight, Doc Emrick said that there have only been two times in NHL history that one goalie has started 70 plus games and won the Stanley Cup. You want to guess? Yeah, Marty in 2000 and 2003. But wait, you say, doesn't that prove that Marty needs to play a lot of games in order to be sharp enough to make the long playoff run towards Lord Stanley? I don't think so.
As Brodeur has gotten older, I believe that part of the reason he has not performed up to his standards in the playoffs in recent seasons has been the fact that he should not have had the huge workload he has. I know the team wasn't exactly the strongest the last few years, but I did think last year the Devils had a good chance to at least go to the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly further. Yet Marty was simply not Martin Brodeur last playoff year. The injury I think will make it so Brodeur can really hit his stride going into the playoffs.
You combine that with the fact that the Devils will likely have to capable scoring lines (although the other line will probably be Elias-Rolston-Gionta the way things are going) and a more capable power play and this team who has been near the top of the Eastern Conference for a long time now and recently beat the Bruins and Sharks with their back up goalie, and I think you could be looking at a fourth Cup for the state of New Jersey and another silhouetted Stanley Cup on the back of Marty's mask. The caveat being that the team needs to remain healthy though. It can ill afford to lose someone like Paul Martin or God forbid Zach Parise.
Maybe I'm just seeing the world through red and black spectacles, but I will tell you it is looking quite pretty right now.