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A Closer Look at Martin Brodeur's "Struggles" - Goals Against Since February 5th

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For anyone who has followed the New Jersey Devils this season, it is no secret they limped into the Olympic break with a poor two weeks of results and performances in February.  Now, the focus is in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics for the men's ice hockey tournament. 

New Jersey Devils goaltender and hockey legend Martin Brodeur is on the Canadian roster, expected to bring home nothing less than the gold.  According to this Monday post by Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy, head coach Mike Babcock has scheduled Brodeur to get his first start tomorrow against Switzerland.  Some, like Wyshynski in that post, think Brodeur will still be the #1 and applauded the move to give Canada's first game to Roberto Luongo as to give Brodeur rest:

Brodeur, who's started 57 of the New Jersey Devils' 61 games this season, gets a few days of physical and mental rest -- putting some distance between the Olympics and the 18 goals in six games he's surrendered in February.

Brodeur isn't the only goaltender to heading into the Olympics with struggles, also pointed out by Greg Wyshynski on Tuesday prior to the start of the tournament.  Ryan Miller, Evgeni Nabokov, and Jonas Hiller all looked far from their usual form in games running up to the Olympics.  Still, it's a cause for question - especially on a team as deep as Canada - of whether Brodeur should be the starting goaltender; one that Wyshynski opens up with:

He's a goalie with a 2-3-1 record in February who has given up 18 goals in six games and played to a save percentage of .850 or below in three of them. So the question for Team Canada coach Mike Babcock over the last two weeks has been: Can Martin Brodeur(notes) start looking like Martin Brodeur again in the Olympics?

Travis Hughes at SBN was more forthright in stating that goaltending is especially important for  the Olympic tournament.  He's right. The Olympics is a short tournament and a goaltender who isn't doing well is just as able to doom a team's chances as much as a hot goaltender can will a team to a victory.   This is true for a hockey power like Canada as it is for a team like Norway, whose Pal Grotnes was brilliant in the first period and keeping Canada scoreless.  Hughes had this curious statement:

The 37-year-old has played 58 games already this season in the NHL, however, and in the last month or so with the Devils he's shown signs of fatigue. He has a history of wearing down in the NHL's postseason, and already showing signs of weakness this year is a potential issue for Canada in the Games.

I'm not picking on Wyshynski or Hughes, I'm just using these quotes as examples to highlight what is likely a common concern among fans of Canada and/or Brodeur. (Or common criticisms.)  Regardless, I'm not going to argue that Brodeur had a great February.  He didn't.  However, I do question whether or not Canada and/or Brodeur supporters should be worried about Brodeur's fatigue.  He's given up 18 goals in 6 games. But is there anything about them we can learn?  Is it truly the result of an overworked goaltender?  Or were most of these goals against  Brodeur were goals that most goalies would have given up regardless of rest?


GP MIN W L GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
February 2010 - Martin Brodeur 6 344 2 4 18 3.14
140 122 .871 0

To answer those questions, I did the same method that I used for analyzing Zach Parise's goals from this season: I looked at all of the goals against and made notes.  I took a closer look at each goal scored against Brodeur since February 5, 2010.  I chose that time period because it was Brodeur's most recent stretch of games and because the February 5th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs came after four days of rest for Brodeur.  Which, incidentally, is how much rest has received going into tomorrow's game with Switzerland.

We know his statline from February and it's safe to say it sucks. But what does the video show?  The conclusions may surprise you.

Here's a chart detailing my notes for each one of the 18 goals given up by Martin Brodeur since February 5, 2010.  For those who feel the need to check these out yourself and those who may disagree with my thoughts on the goals, I have provided a link to a NHL.com video of each goal against in the chart as well:

 

Date GA# Description of GA Video Link
Feb. 5 1 Kaberle fires from the point through traffic, beats MB. Looked like a screen of sorts on MB. Link
Feb. 5 2 Stempniak takes puck from Mottau, wheels around, fires it through MB.  Should have been stopped. Link
Feb. 5 3 White and Langenbrunner run into each other and cough puck in the slot. Wallin picks it up and fires it from high slot to beat MB. Maybe MB should have had it; but the D gifted Wallin that shot more than anything else.
Link
Feb. 6 4 Callahan finds Gaborik at crease on flank, no chance for MB Link
Feb. 6 5 Mottau clears it up middle (pass to Kovalchuk?), picked off by Callahan, fires and scores. MB hung out to dry.
Link
Feb. 6 6 3-on-2; Drury fires shot past Fraser, over MB's shoulder. Good shot, Fraser's body (screen) forces MB lower than necessary opening the area for Drury Link
Feb. 8 7 Van Reimsdyk fires, takes a deflection off Greene, changes direction on MB for a higher shot. Link
Feb. 8 8 Long pass by Pronger springs Hartnell and Carter on 2-on-1. Mottau stays in middle to do nothing, pass gets to Carter for easy goal on MB flank. Link
Feb. 8 9 Richards all alone in front, Timonen finds him in slot, easy, point-blank shot for Richards right on MB's doorstep Link
Feb. 10 10 Asham shoots at bottom of circle, deflects off Greene to change direction on MB up close. Link
Feb. 10 11 Carter rushes up ice, places shot perfectly to beat MB. More Carter beating MB than MB doing anything wrong. Link
Feb. 10 12 Jeff Carter stands in front of MB; Simon Gagne shot in high slot fired just past screen and in. MB didn't see it.
Link
Feb. 12 13 Cal O'Reilly stands in slot, takes Wilson's pass (where Salvador should have been?). MB at mercy of O'Reilly's shot.  Well-placed. Link
Feb. 12 14 Tootoo did use Greene as makeshift screen, but the shot was far enough away for MB to see it. Should have been stopped. Link
Feb. 13 15 Salmela doesn't clear puck, gets stripped by Sutter. Crazy play leads to Boychuk shot arcing over Brodeur, off Salmela (could have been blocked down?), and in. Not MB fault; all on D there. Link
Feb. 13 16 5-on-3 became short 5-on-2 due to bad change by Zajac. Staal found Whitney for cross-ice pass; one-timer goal. Not MB's fault. Link
Feb. 13 17 Gleason's shot hits the post, goes off Brodeur's back.  Puck lies there, Whitney beats Mottau to it and scores easily. MB literally couldn't see it until it was in. Link
Feb. 13 18 Whitney holds onto puck along boards, dishes it to streaking Jokinen for a one-timer goal. No real chance for MB. Link

Again, if you disagree with what I concluded from watching all of these goals, then by all means, watch the video to each goal against and point out what I missed or what you disagree with in the comments.

For the sake of analysis, I broke down the situation for each goal against and counted how many times it happened against Brodeur for games between February 5 and February 13:

Situation on Goal Against Count Percentage
Brodeur screened on goal in some way 3 16.67%
Shot deflected along way to goal 2 11.11%
Well-placed shot/chance on net 5 27.78%
Soft goal/should have been stopped 2 11.11%
Defense directly at fault for goal 3 16.67%
On Brodeur's flank (side or behind) 3 16.67%

 

I'm going to be frank: the majority of these goals were not Brodeur's fault.  I'd go as far as to say only two of them were bad ones to give up.  That would be Stempniak's power play goal (GA#2) and Tootoo's long shot (GA#14).  The only others that someone could make a case - not that I'd agree, but a case may be made - that Brodeur could have stopped Kaberle's shot from the point (GA#1), Wallin's shot after the defense gifted him one (GA#3), and Drury's shot over the shoulder (GA#6).  Even if you add those three goals, that's still only 27.78% of all of the goals given up in this 6 game span.

Also: do note that of all the games, the February 5th game against Toronto is one of two that had a soft goal given up by Brodeur as well as the other two goals that could be seen as questionable in that regard even though I attributed both to other factors.  Of all 6 games, I'd say Brodeur was the worst looking in that one among the others. Remember that game was Brodeur's first after a four day rest.  Surely  I would think that fatigue can't be blamed for that performance from Brodeur.

The plurality of goals against that went in were just, as I called them, well-placed shots/scoring chances: shots right in front (e.g. Richards GA#9; O'Reilly GA#13) or one-timers (e.g. Whitney's first goal GA#16, Jokinen's goal GA#18).  Shots that are just difficult for the goaltender by their very nature.  Short of a miraculous save, I don't think there's much a goaltender (whether they are Brodeur, Miller, Luongo, Lundqvist, Toskala, Danis, et. al.) can do in those situations.  On some, Brodeur was in the right position, the right stance, and the shooter just found the small window of opportunity.  On others, particularly the one-timers or the point-blank shots, the shooter usually has the advantage if they were on-target and they were.    I don't think it's fair to fault Brodeur - or any other goaltender - on those shots.  Similarly, I don't think a more rested goaltender does any better on such shots.

Likewise, Brodeur was screened on three goals against and had to deal with a deflection right in front on two of them.  Again, short of a miraculous save, the goaltender is usually beaten in those situations.  That's why offenses tend to send bodies in front.   It is very difficult, if not impossible, to stop what one cannot see or what changes direction after committing to a shot.  To that end, I can't fault a goaltender - regardless of how rested they are - for giving those up.   For those following along, that's 10 goals.

Three more were directly in line with the defense hanging Brodeur out to dry.  If only Jamie Langenbrunner and Colin White didn't run into each other and botch what should have been an easy clearance, then the Wallin goal doesn't happen (GA#3). If only Mike Mottau didn't clear it up the middle to make it easy for Ryan Callahan (GA#5). If only Anssi Salmela just cleared it at all instead of getting it stolen by Brandon Sutter en route to a very sloppy sequence by New Jersey for Zach Boychuk's goal (GA#15).  That's three goals that shouldn't have happened at all. That's three goals where Brodeur really wasn't the factor in the goal being scored.

Lastly, two goals were right on his flank (his blindside) - Gaborik on the crease (GA#4) and Jeff Carter finishing a 2-on-1 (GA#8) - and one more was a loose puck that bounced off the post, off Brodeur's back, and put in by Ray Whitney before Brodeur even saw it (GA#17).  Like with screens, a goalie can't stop what he can't see; which is why offenses try to set up those kinds of plays.   Again, fatigue has nothing to do with that.

Ultimately, I'm left with the following conclusion: 16 of the 18 goals allowed by Martin Brodeur in his last 6 games were not bad goals to give up - he had no realistic chance to do anything on those in my view.  Especially when one considers one of the 2 soft goals he gave up came right after a 4 day break, I do not believe that more rest or being younger or whatever would not have helped Brodeur on the majority of those goals allowed in his recent games.

Two questions come to mind: Knowing all this, did Brodeur really struggle in these last 6 games because he wasn't miraculous in them?  Should Canada/Brodeur/Devils fans be worried?

Yes, February for Brodeur was bad.  I can't defend a 2-3-1 record. Yes, the statline for Brodeur in February is bad.   For those who didn't see the goals against Brodeur and/or the Devils heading into the Olympic break,  they would be a justifiable cause for concern.  While the stats that suggest that Martin Brodeur is struggling, lost a step, and/or overworked, a closer look at the goals against themselves show otherwise from my standpoint.   He's not allowing soft goals on a regular basis. (Nor was he able to stretch his limbs to impossible places or see through players to stop unreachable or non-visible shots when he was younger.)

Therefore, I don't think Brodeur has played bad or tired (a moot point given that he's had 4 days to rest before Thursday) going into the Olympics, and I think the above chart backs that up.  I think it's fairer to say that he's more of a victim of playing behind a slumping hockey team more than anything else.

Basically, if you're a Canada and/or a Brodeur fan, then I wouldn't worry about the stats.  The struggles are perceived.  He should be fine tomorrow against Switzerland and beyond.

One more thing for the Devils fans to think about.  Back on February 7, I looked back at the previous 30 days in second period performances to see how bad the Devils really were in the second period.   Since I was already looking at Brodeur's goals against, I decided to look at the times of the goals against as well to see if there's any trends since February 5, 2010:

When Goals are Given Up Count Percentage
First Period 3 16.67%
Second Period 12 66.67%
Third Period 2 11.11%
Overtime 1 5.56%

 

Even if you throw out the February 5th and 6th games as they were in that initial post (6 goals), the second period still sticks out like a sore thumb.   I think it's fair to say that the second period remains a problem period for the New Jersey Devils.   I don't think it'll affect Brodeur in the Olympics unless the Canadian national team starts sleepwalking through shifts in the second period.

Thanks for reading another researched post at In Lou We Trust.  Let me know what you think about Brodeur and his perceived struggles as well as how you think he'll do for Canada in the Olympics in the comments.