Given that the New Jersey Devils played so poorly going into the Olympic break, I think it's fair to say that most fans are at least a little concerned about how Martin Brodeur does for Canada. Goaltender is a position where one is criticized even if there was little he could do about the shot that went in. By stats alone going into the break, one conclude that things haven't been going well for Brodeur. I argued that by looking at the actual goals against themselves tells a different story, but I admit that the numbers are going to speak louder than a goal-by-goal analysis. Besides, in the future, few if any people are going to look at each goal against to determine whether a goalie played well or not over a long period of time.
In any case, Brodeur is expected to be the starter tomorrow against the United States in a big game to decide who wins Group A and gets a bye in the playoffs. With expectations high for Canada given their roster, their disappointing 2006 run, and the fact they have home ice, criticism will run higher - especially on the goaltender. For Devils fans, it is almost imperative that the team gets off to a good start after the Olympic break. An extension of the January-February slump is unacceptable. That means the team needs to start winning and Brodeur will be an important part of that effort.
So Devils fans, especially those watching tomorrow, may wish for Brodeur (among the other Devils' olympians) to do really well and not have the criticism get to him. But I ask, would that really matter? For Brodeur, history provides a good scenario for comparison. In 2002, Brodeur backstopped Canada to a gold medal, a clearly successful Olympics. In 2006, Canada got bounced in the quarterfinals by Russia and Brodeur split time with Roberto Luongo, clearly not a successful Olympics. How did Brodeur do after each Olympic break? I decided to break down his post-Olympic stats in search for an answer.
Thankfully, NHL.com keeps game-by-game logs of players as far back as the 1997-1998 season. Brodeur didn't play in Nagano in 1998, so there's no need to go back that far. I understand that two examples won't necessarily won't lead to anything definitive for what will happen in March. After all, if the Devils in front of him are still playing bad, then Brodeur alone can't force them to get wins. Still, it's worth looking to see how he does.
Post-2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics - Gold Medal for Canada
The Olympics were very successful for Brodeur and Canada. You can't do much better than a gold medal, after all. Brodeur kept the good times rolling in New Jersey afterward. Here's how his numbers breakdown by each month. By the way, yes, there were ties back then in the NHL; but Brodeur and the Devils didn't pick any up after the Olympics. Every game had an actual conclusion. That's why you don't see an extra column for ties.
|February 2002 - Martin Brodeur||1||60||0||1||3||3.00||24||21||.875||0|
|March 2002 - Martin Brodeur||12||720||8||4||23||1.92||268||245||.914||1|
|April 2002 - Martin Brodeur||6||363||5||1||10||1.65||126||116||.920||1|
Well, one can't complain at all about how Brodeur played after Salt Lake City. OK, the first game back wasn't so great; but his March and April stats look excellent. Here's his combined post-Olympic stats from 2002:
|Feb. - Apr. 2002 - Martin Brodeur||19||1143
How did the Devils do? Well, not as well. Sure, they rode a 6 game winning streak right until the end; but it wasn't enough to make up for earlier struggles by the team. In the 2001-2002 season, they finished with a record of 41-28-9-4 and third in the Atlantic with 95 points, just one behind the New York Islanders (seriously) and two behind the first-place Philadelphia Flyers. The sixth seed gave the Devils a first round battle with the Carolina Hurricanes, a re-match of the 2001 playoffs first round. Only this time, Carolina won in 6 games.
At least Brodeur was a Vezina finalist, though the award went to Jose Theodore for literally carrying an injury-battered Montreal Canadiens team into the playoffs (he also won the Hart trophy, so there's that).
Post-2006 Turin Winter Olympics - 7th Place for Canada
Supporters of Canada's men's ice hockey team may want to forget the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. A lack of goal scoring was evident and the team couldn't get it together. Martin Brodeur was in net for Russia's 2-0 quarterfinal win that saw the Canadians eliminated. Definitely not at all successful. How did he do afterwards?
|March 2006 - Martin Brodeur||14||814||6||8||40||2.95||386||346||.896||0|
|April 2006 - Martin Brodeur||9
On the surface, it looked like the poor Olympics took some toll on his performance in March. The Devils as a team were struggling after the Olympics and I question whether or not it was Brodeur playing badly or the team not doing as well. If memory serves me correctly, then it wasn't unlike the last month or so of games the Devils have played before this season's Olympic break. Though, in 2006, they took more games beyond regulation: 6, to be precise. Still, the numbers show that at a minimum, Brodeur didn't look great.
I should note that 3 of those 8 losses in March were beyond regulation, so the Devils did pick up a few points there and it shows that Brodeur at least did enough in regulation to force extra time.
The end of March was great with two straight wins, leading to one of the greatest single months in franchise history: April 2006. Nothing but wins in the final month of the season, leading to a final record of 47-27-9 (101 pts.), and winning the Atlantic Division on the final day of the season after being mired in third through most of March. The first round of the playoffs was fantastic; a 4 game sweep of Our Hated Rivals. 13 total games in April, 13 wins in April. The winning streak went to 15 games including those two wins in the end of March and while Brodeur didn't shut anyone out, that save percentage of 93.4% was (and still is) ridiculously good.
However, the Ottawa Senators flexed their muscles in 5 games in the second round, knocking the Devils out of the playoffs. Brodeur was a finalist for the Vezina, but it went to Miikka Kiprusoff instead. So the poor March was just that - a poor month; he was still among the top goaltenders in the league. Here's the combined post-Olympic numbers for Brodeur:
|Mar. - Apr. 2006 - Martin Brodeur||23||1355||15||8||59||2.61||675||616||.913||0|
Well, when Martin Brodeur and Canada did well in 2002, he continued playing well behind a team that was also playing well. When Brodeur and Canada got dumped early in 2006, he didn't put up big numbers behind a team that wasn't putting up great performances. The 2002 numbers are clearly better for Brodeur. Yet, the deeper playoff run and the higher position in the division (and the conference) came in 2006, as the Devils got real hot in the last month of the season. In both seasons, the Devils weren't all that great prior to the Olympics, which played a huge role in their final position in the standings.
Ultimately, I think it all goes back to the team in front of him. If the Devils go back to hockey in March and struggle like they did before the Olympic break, then Brodeur probably going to continue to look as he did prior to the break. His numbers certainly won't look good. This isn't to say that Brodeur can't carry the team on a given night; just that he - like pretty much every goaltender in the NHL from Miller through Toskala - can't be expected to do it every night.
With respect to Sunday's game and beyond, the only other conclusion I think is that Brodeur doing well would be nice, but it's not necessarily going to lead to the Devils doing great in April or May. I don't believe that Canada going on to win the gold with Brodeur in net will necessarily mean the Devils will start winning games right after the break. Likewise, I don't think Canada getting anything less with Brodeur in net or on the bench will doom the Devils to more and more losses right away. As the cliche goes, you win as a team, and you lose as a team - something the non-Olympian Devils should recognize during their break.
So if you want to hope for Brodeur to do well tomorrow or hope that the United States goes on to win the game by any means, that's fine. I just don't think Brodeur needs to do well in Vancouver for New Jersey to be successful in March and April. Please let me know what you think in the comments.