2008-09 in review: November adversity
Hosting the Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 1, New Jersey took a 3-0 lead on goals from Nicklas Bergfors [first NHL goal/ 700K], Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. Then, 6:38 into the second period, Martin Brodeur made a glove save and was slow to get up. He could be seen clutching his left arm.
"He stretched out to make a glove save," Devils' head coach Brent Sutter said that night, before the extent of the injury was known. "Then he stretched out again. I don't know exactly what happened. He got hit earlier with a shot there, too."
Surgery was necessary to repair the damage to Brodeur's left elbow, and he would miss 50 games with the first major injury of his 15-year NHL career.
Kevin Weekes came on in relief that night to close out a 6-1 victory [ 700K]. Brodeur, who made five saves in the game, was credited with his 544th career victory to move within seven of Patrick Roy's all-time record.
The projection was that Brodeur would miss three to four months. New Jersey had already lost Brian Rolston (ankle, Oct. 16) and Bobby Holik (pinkie, Oct. 18). Now Jersey's Team would have to cope with the loss of a four-time Vezina Trophy winner.
The Devils turned to the tandem of Weekes and Scott Clemmensen, who was called up from Lowell (AHL) under emergency conditions.
"You don't want that to happen," Weekes said of Brodeur's setback. "My parents taught us when we were younger that you don't want to look for an opportunity at the expense of somebody else's health. It's happened to me. It's happened to all of us."
In their next game, the Devils stumbled in a 2-0 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 3 and dropped five of their first six games without Brodeur. Weekes made 28 saves in his first start of the season, while Brodeur was shelved for the first time since 2005.
Weekes was back in the crease for a 4-3 shootout win over visiting Tampa Bay on Nov. 5. David Clarkson and Elias erased a 1-0 deficit only to see the Lightning draw even. Jay Pandolfo put the Devils ahead once more late in regulation, but Martin St. Louis scored with 3:20 left to send the game into extra time.
Weekes stopped two of three in the shootout, and captain Jamie Langenbrunner sealed it with his fourth career game-determining goal [ 700K].
New Jersey's 3-1 defeat in Detroit on Nov. 8 was the first of what became a four-game losing skid. Parise scored his 10th goal of the season in his 13th game, tying Elias ('01-02) for third fastest to double figures in club history.
Parise [ 700K] made it goals in two straight games on Nov. 9, when the Devils fell, 2-1, to visiting Edmonton. Clemmensen made his season debut and his first start as a Devil since 2007, and finished with 26 saves. Patrick Davis made his NHL debut, as New Jersey hosted the Oilers for the first time since 2005.
Travis Zajac [ 700K] and Parise [ 700K] each picked up goals to extend their points streaks to three games in the Devils' 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 12. Elias appeared in his 760th career game with New Jersey, tying Randy McKay for seventh place on the team's all-time list.
The losing streak reached four with a 3-1 setback at Washington on Nov. 14. Clemmensen got the start, as the Devils matched their longest stretch of games without Brodeur in the lineup (six, Oct. 28-Nov. 8, 2005) since the 1993-94 season. Elias had New Jersey's lone goal [ 700K], and moved into sole possession of seventh place on the club's all-time games played list (761).
Then, a resilient effort against one of the NHL's most dynamic clubs would go down as a turning point for the Devils in their quest for another Atlantic Division crown.
Twenty-four hours after losing in Washington, the Devils welcomed the Capitals to Newark for the back half of the home-and-home set. Clarkson [ 700K] struck first in a game that was tied five times and included two lead changes. The result was a desperately needed 6-5 shootout victory.
Elias [2g-1a/ 700K / 700K] and Zajac (3a) led the Devils with three points each, while Langenbrunner [ 700K] and Brian Gionta [ 700K] added goals. Gionta's tally broke a 4-4 tie midway through the third before Alex Ovechkin tied the contest at 5 with one second left in regulation.
It came down to a shootout: Clemmensen stopped all three Washington attempts, and Parise, who also had two assists, iced it with a highlight-reel deciding goal [ 700K] against Jose Theodore.
"That was the fifth or sixth game that Marty had missed, we were 1-4 without him at the time and we had lost to them the night before," Clemmensen recalled. "So that’s the one that got everything going where we got on a little winning streak and started gaining confidence. That was definitely one of the most important games not just for me but for the team as well."
Quickly, the wins began to pile up.
Elias, Paul Martin and Gionta scored to lead the Devils past Florida, 3-1, on Nov. 20 [ 700K]. Weekes returned to the lineup on Nov. 21 and made 25 saves in a 5-2 decision over the New York Islanders, with Gionta, Clarkson and Zajac picking up tallies. Martin scored in a second straight game, and Bryce Salvador [ 700K] put home the game-winner. Langenbrunner and Parise led the team with three assists apiece.
Dainius Zubrus had four goals at Tampa Bay on Nov. 23, and the Devils took their fourth straight win with a 7-3 rout of the Lightning [ 700K]. Zubrus became only the fifth player in club history to score four times in a game, and the first since Elias did it in March of 2003.
Elias assisted on three of Zubrus' tallies. Gionta's goal-scoring streak was stretched to four games, and Parise potted his team-leading 13th marker of the year. Mike Rupp recorded his first goal of the campaign.
For Elias, his 765th career appearance tied him with Sergei Brylin for sixth on the team's all-time list. Clemmensen matched a career high with his third win.
The Devils surged to a fifth straight win with a 3-2 overtime triumph at Florida on Nov. 26. New Jersey took a 2-0 lead on goals from Gionta [ 700K] and Zajac [ 700K], but the Panthers knotted it with eight seconds left in regulation. Johnny Oduya came through with the winner at 4:04 of the extra session [ 700K] and Clemmensen (36 saves) set a new career high with his fourth win.
November's finale produced a 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 29. Rupp registered his second goal in three games, but it wasn't enough as the Devils saw their season-high five-game winning streak come to an end.
New Jersey took five of six to wrap up a 7-6-0 mark in November and improve to 12-8-2 overall. They would go the next four months without losing more than two in a row.
"The high point for us was responding after Marty’s injury,” Langenbrunner said. “Many in the media were writing us off, and we had a tough little stretch right away. But the way we responded in November just solidified this team and gave us a chance to win a division title and move forward in the playoffs."