Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer got a little bit of a break in Martin Brodeur getting slightly injured so early in the season.
The Brodeur injury instantly grabbed the team’s attention, focusing them on winning without their franchise goalie, and took their minds off of last season’s horrible start.
DeBoer has been doing a lot of mental coaching to try and shake-up a franchise that, historically, has always seemed to create tightly-wound, neurotic players.
For one thing, DeBoer has been riding Kovalchuk while he’s looking good, giving him over 32 minutes of ice time against Nashville over the weekend. One reason is because Kovalchuk has been skating well. But also, Kovalchuk does well with a lot of ice time, a holdover from his time in Atlanta. If the Devils can’t give Kovalchuk complementary linemates to get him going, at least they can give him lots of ice time.
Historically, the Devils have never been a team to ride one player (although Jacques Lemaire certainly was inclined to go to Kovalchuk when he didn’t know what else to do), but DeBoer sees a chance to pile on the minutes for Kovalchuk, so he’s taking it.
The Devils are just four games into the season, so it’s hard to say how representative these first few games have been. But it’s interesting to see how DeBoer is taking advantage of Brodeur’s injury to change things up a bit. Players will complain about change, but when a team is compensating for an injured goalie, just about everyone understands that a team needs to do whatever it can to remain competitive.
DeBoer knows that and he’s using that as an opportunity to make some changes (like moving Petr Sykora off of the top line and down to the third) and to keep his team focused on surviving, rather than avoiding a bad start.
And as we saw in Nashville, where the Devils won after being down two goals, surviving often turns to winning. Especially thanks to the shootout.
No teams wants to see its top goalie go down, especially early in the season. But by Brodeur getting hurt, the Devils might have actually caught a break.
It’s not a coincidence that after the Nashville win, backup-now-starting goalie Johan Hedberg commented on the win in terms of last season’s awful start:
If you compare to early last year, you can’t compare the feeling in this room. We’re a bunch of guys that really believed. It’s like the feeling when were making that run last year. Guys thought, ‘You know what? We’re going to do this.’
An injured Brodeur made that belief possible.
Now, the Devils need to hold onto that belief when Brodeur is ready to start again, which is expected to be Friday.
We’ll see if a game and a half without Brodeur was enough to get the Devils out of their own heads and to chase away the ghosts of the first half of last season.