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I Defend the Decision to Start Martin Brodeur against Edmonton

The numbers for Brodeur as of late has been poor.    In his last 10 NHL starts, Brodeur has been pulled once (5-2 loss to Carolina on 2/13) and has allowed more than 3 goals in all but one game (the 5-2 win over Nashville on 2/12).  In each of the recaps for those games, I feel I went to enough length to explain what I thought about each goal against; but it's clear that common sentiment only cares about the numbers.   Understandable, this is a results-oriented business.  The recent results aren't enough for most New Jersey Devils fans and so the various blog comments and various message board posts aren't pleased with Brodeur.

2009 - Martin Brodeur 60 3487 35 21 138 2.37 1569 1431 .912 7

Needless to say, Brodeur is taking whatever heat he may feel pretty close to home and he's candid on that he has to play better.  His comments after the 5-3 loss to Calgary are proof of this sentiment, as reported by Gulitti. That said, I'm sure more than few Devils fans would like to see Yann Danis get a start against the team with the worst record in the NHL.  Perhaps the team will play better in front of him. Perhaps Brodeur will be more focused for Wednesday's game against Our Hated Rivals as a result.

2009 - Yann Danis 9 324 3 1 10 1.85 146 136 .932 0

Tom Gulitti reported earlier today that Martin Brodeur will get the start on Sunday night according to Jacques Lemaire.  I'm sure some (many?) Devils fans won't be too pleased to hear this, given all of this in mind.  That said, I not only think it's the right decision but the best decision given the current circumstances.  I offer my reasoning after the jump.

1. You play your best players to have the best chance to win a game.  The Devils haven't earned two consecutive wins together since early January.  The team has been a miserable on the road since January 6 (4-9-1) and poor overall against Western Conference teams (5-7-1).  While they amassed a solid foothold in the East, they really could use some wins to prevent a further slump.  To do that, the Devils can start getting things in order with a win over Edmonton.  In order to have the best chance to do that, the Devils must take the opponent seriously and play them consistently well.  In part of taking them seriously, Brodeur has to play for he's the better goaltender - regardless of what recent form suggests.

2. Edmonton is a classic "trap" game.  Expect to see this again in tomorrow's preview, but in my mind the Oilers are a trap game for the Devils.  Sure, we may think it should be an easy game because the Oilers are by and far the worst team in the NHL. 

Yet, consider the Devils against similarly putrid opponents like Carolina (who's hot now) and Toronto (who's still Toronto).  The Devils got lit up by the Canes in their last game between other and in three straight games with the Leafs, the Devils got an overtime win, completely played off the ice in Toronto, and needed a miraculous comeback in the third game to win it.    The Canes and Leafs didn't play as poorly as their record may suggest, so why expect the Oilers to do so when they got nothing left to lose?  Especially in their home and coming off a win against Minnesota?

Again, to best avoid this, the Devils can't look past the opposition.  Starting Brodeur at least accomplishes part of that statement.  Of course, the team will have to play the game very seriously, by which I mean not taking a period to a period-and-a-half off.

3. The only way to get out of a lull is to work at it, Brodeur doesn't need the rest.  Gulitti described Brodeur's recent games as a "lull," noting that the results have been poor for the goaltender.  Brodeur's quote here is particularly important:

"It goes with winning," Brodeur said. "When you win, you feel invincible. And when you lose, you feel that something bad is going to happen. You’re waiting for it. And, as a team, it’s the same, not just goalies. It could be goal scorers. It could be anybody. And right now, we’re in that situation where we’ve just got to look at the big picture, look forward and not look at all the little things that are happening because it’s going to drive you crazy."

Do goal scorers break their lulls by not playing? Do playmakers try to make better plays on the bench?  Do defenseman get better by getting scratched? No, no, and no.  It's one thing to bench a player who has been bad, but how often does it really work?  They need to work through their issues on the ice.   Brodeur must do the same.  Let's be frank, he hasn't played all that much recently.  He's started his second game since February 21; so he can't possibly be fatigued.  Sitting him out on Sunday isn't necessarily going to result in a better performance on Wednesday.

4. Yann Danis will not inspire the skaters to play better/work harder on the ice.  One of the biggest comeback wins the Devils had this season was in Atlanta from December 19. The Thrashers pounced through the Colin White-Mike Mottau pairing in the first period and put three past Brodeur.  Lemaire put in Yann Danis and the Devils managed to make and complete the comeback for a 5-4 win.  This is cited as an example as to why Danis should play more.

There's two problems with that. First, please read my recap from that game. Atlanta's defense was as good as a wet paper bag. The Devils' offense kept up the pressure, pounded Ondrej Pavalec with shots, and got the goals they needed.   Danis was solid but it wasn't as if Atlanta's defense was going to be so bad if he didn't enter the game.

Second, the Devils' 3-0 loss to Toronto on February 2, 2010 pretty much disproves this notion.  Danis got the start and while it wasn't the most ideal of situations - the debut games of J-S Giguere and Dion Phaneuf in front of a hot ACC in Toronto - the Devils came out flat.  It wasn't that Danis blew the game, but by no means did the guys in front of him play any harder with him in the net.  It was just like a similar shutout loss to Ottawa that had Brodeur in net. 

The Devils as a team has been struggling, as evidenced by the lack of consecutive wins.  Maybe they need a spark. But that loss to Toronto is proof that putting Danis in net isn't going to provide that spark.  I wish it were that simple.

As far as what the Devils can do, they can work on a number of the issues some players brought up to Gulitti after the Calgary game regarding fading out of periods.  From my recap, I feel the defense could do well to avoid costly turnovers and actually react when the opposition makes a move in the slot.   There's probably many more things we could suggest.  I'm sure someone will bring up Brodeur needing to play better and make more big, unbelievable saves (Aside: Is that even reasonable and realistic?  By their nature, big, unbelievable saves are stops that few honestly expect the goalie to make it.)

But we're not going to see a better performance if he's not playing.  He's not tired, it's a game that the Devils should go out and win, and it's a game they'll have to take seriously to win.  Therefore, I fully understand and agree with the decision for him to start against the Oilers on Sunday.  Let me know what you think, but that's how I see it.