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Hard work a must against Flyers

Hedberg makes second straight start

Thursday, 01.6.2011 / 1:52 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Hard work a must against Flyers
Lemaire says work ethic the key vs. Flyers.
Playing the defending Eastern Conference champions poses its own hefty set of challenges. But Jacques Lemaire knows what his Devils must do in Thursday’s matchup with the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.

“We will have to play together,” Lemaire said as the Devils took the ice for the optional morning skate. “We will have to work every shift. Every shift. That’s my concern: play together, work hard every shift. We do that, I’ll be satisfied no matter happens.”

Lemaire will go with Johan Hedberg for a second straight start. The netminder they call “Moose” has gotten the nod in three of the last four for the Devils (10-27-2), who are looking to snap a two-game skid.

Hedberg is 5-8-1 with a 2.87 goals-against average and one shutout in 18 appearances.

Martin Brodeur has struggled, recording one win during a recent stretch of nine straight starts. He allowed three goals on seven shots before being relieved by Hedberg Saturday in Carolina. The NHL’s all-time wins leader has used this week’s practices to try and get back on track.

Lemaire believes Brodeur is getting closer to where he needs to be. He could be back in goal Saturday, when the Devils close out the home-and-home with the Flyers in Philadelphia.

“By working hard in practices and trying to do a little more to be in the best shape possible, then there’s a time that you’ll feel better,” Lemaire said. “It’s going to show in practices and then it tells you that person is ready.”

Brodeur, who has topped 70 appearances in 11 of the last 12 seasons, is using the time between starts to refine certain aspects of his game. This rough patch has been a challenge for a goaltender accustomed to playing night in, night out.

“It’s just like anything, when you’re not doing well I think it’s a good time to take a step back and start working again,” Brodeur said. “Because when you play a lot and you don’t win, it plays mind games (with you) a little bit. I just wanted to refocus on the right things and that’s what I’ve been doing this week.”

As a team's losses pile up, players can have trouble shaking them off.

“He’s like many other guys,” Lemaire said. “When you lose and you don’t play as well as you feel you should, your confidence is not and your demeanor is not as great. You’re not as upbeat as you are when you’re winning and things are going well. But he’s like many other guys who (get) discouraged.”

This is kind of season is a first for Brodeur, who holds records in wins (607), games played (1,103) and shutouts (113). Last year, he reached the 40-win plateau for the eighth time in his Hall of Fame career, something no one else in NHL history has done more than three times.

“It’s something new for him,” Lemaire said. “It never happened. Only he knows how he takes things. It’s got to be different for him because he’s been on top, he’s been the best for a long time. He’s been great. Now that it’s tougher for him… but he’s a fighter, like I said. He always was. He’s had bad games in the past, but he bounced back the following game.”

Lemaire offered that the team needs to be better in front of Brodeur.

“Here it’s not only him, it’s the team, too, that makes him like this,” the coach said. “It’s not only him. It’s how we play in front of him, too. You look at the last game (in Carolina) when I pulled him, he made the first three saves on the goals. He made the first save, (they) got a goal. Made another save, (they) got a goal. Another save, (they) got a goal.

“If you go back through all the games, how many saves did he make like that where the puck went in the net after? It means something: that we have to play better in front. That’s why I can’t only blame him. It’s the whole team.”

Overall, Lemaire doesn’t think bad starts have been a problem, though he expects better than what he saw Tuesday against Minnesota. The Devils managed just one shot in the first period of a 2-1 loss to the Wild.

“It’s funny, they were starting well before and had terrible second (periods),” he said. “Now we’re better in the second. Sometimes we’re not as good in the first. The wind changed sides.”

The winningest coach in Devils history with 248, Lemaire’s 1-5 since taking over for John MacLean on Dec. 23. If losing is difficult for the players, it’s no cakewalk for the guy behind the bench, either.

“It’s tough. It’s hard,” Lemaire said with a long pause. “When you come in and your team doesn’t have success, you’re trying to find what’s going on. What is the problem; what can you fix? Then the team keeps losing, and you fix certain things and then you run into maybe at a time, ‘I don’t know what to do anymore.’ Then, if that happens, you keep losing, and if you keep coming in saying, ‘I don’t know what’s the problem,’ and you don’t have solutions, now you’re done. I’m not at that point. I don’t come in and say I don’t know what to do. I’ve got a lot of (stuff) to do, I gotta tell you.”

Lemaire has long list of things he needs to accomplish during his third stint in New Jersey. As of Thursday afternoon, he had 43 games to get them all done.

“We’ve got young guys that don’t know the game, we’ve got guys we have to get in shape, we’ve got the whole team to play together, we’ve got goalies we’ve got to get back, we’ve got the scorers we have to get them to score, we’ve got the checkers and we have to get them to check,” he said. “It’s a lot of stuff.”

Tuesday’s game against the Wild opened a tough stretch of four games in six nights. After two games with Philadelphia, the Devils return home to host second-seeded Tampa Bay on Sunday.

“It will be tough, but we have to play them,” Lemaire said. “We can’t say, ‘We’ll skip this one and go to the next one.’”