Martin Brodeur, the best goaltender in the world: It sounds so right because it was so true for most of the past decade. Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy were in the argument, too, and Roy might be the only goalie in the modern era to challenge Brodeur for the title of best in NHL history.
But the luster has worn off the Devils legend, a man who won three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies and owns league records for wins, shutouts and games played. The jersey still says Brodeur, but the stats tell the story of an indescribable career grinding to a halt.
"He's got a lot of mileage. He's been playing the game at such a high level for such a long time," Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. "The human body, especially the goaltending position, can only take so much."
Brodeur, a winner of 627 games going into Friday night when he and New Jersey host the Caps in Newark, hasn't been himself the last year and a half or so.
In the 2010 playoffs, he and second-seeded Devils got knocked out in five games as Brodeur put up an un-Brodeur-like .881 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average. Last season, injuries limited him to 56 games, in which he went 23-26-3 and had a .903 save percentage. Again not fully healthy, the 39-year-old is 2-2 this year with an .885 save percentage.
Brodeur boasts a career 2.22 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in the regular season and 2.01 and .919 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of all the big-time goalies to play in the NHL, Brodeur might be the biggest.
"It's not an easy task to play this long," Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "For goalie [to] play over 1,000 games, that's unbelievable. Obviously it says a lot about his durability, not just his skill. What a career. You look at the numbers, and it says it all."
During that career, Brodeur has given off an intimidating presence. One of the last true stand-up goalies in the NHL and donning a mask that became an iconic sign of shutouts and victories, he makes teams think twice about everything.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said he and his staff game-plan for every opposing goalie, "from puck-handling to where goals beat him." Or, In Brodeur's case, Boudreau said, "where they don't beat him."
But Knuble cautioned that too much worrying about Brodeur has helped him thrive.
"I remember playing for coaches that were so psyched out by him," he said. "You structure your whole game around keeping the puck away from him and this and that, 'Don't get psyched out by Brodeur' when they're psyching their whole team out by Marty Brodeur."
Asked about Brodeur, players wondered aloud if he was healthy. The Devils netminder's durability has seemingly been worn down by 12 seasons of 70-plus games.
He'll play regular-season game No. 1,138 against Washington on Friday night at Prudential Center. This is the final season of a six-year, $31.2 million contract, and the end — setting the clock in motion for his inevitable Hall of Fame induction.
But no one's pushing Brodeur out the door, and Vokoun said no one should be doing that.
"If you have fun playing, you can play as long as you want to," Vokoun said, referencing tennis players past their prime. "If you like playing and still feel you're competitive, there's no reason why you couldn't play."
Brodeur keeps playing, even though fellow veteran Johan Hedberg might get more games this season, and even though his days of being a workhorse are long over.
The days of him being a dominant force between the pipes are over, too, but that doesn't mean facing Brodeur is any less special.
"I don't care who you are, probably as a forward you get a little kick, a little sparkle in your eye when you're lucky enough to get a goal on him, because he has that great reputation," Knuble said. "As a shooter, it's a great challenge. You can't help but feel good if you ever get one. He's a Hall of Famer."
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