One way to try to evaluate the effect of New Jersey’s defensive team play is to look at Brodeur’s backups and see how they performed. So I looked at the Devils’ backup goalies over the last 5 seasons (including this one). Here is the breakdown:
M. Brodeur: 340 games, 2.17 GAA, .916 save%, 37 shutouts, 0.11 shutouts/game
Backups: 44 games, 2.17 GAA, .913 save%, 4 shutouts, 0.09 shutouts/game
Remember, these are the 5 years in which Brodeur won 2 Vezinas (probably 3 after this year), a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal, and was virtually unanimously acclaimed as the best goalie in the world. Yet his backups had an identical GAA, nearly the same save percentage, and nearly the same shutout rate, playing behind the same defence.
Seems to me that a two-pronged attack of Corey Schwab and Scott Clemmensen, with maybe a little John Vanbiesbrouck sprinkled in, could more or less duplicate Brodeur’s “Hall-of-Fame” results over the last 5 years.
Corey Schwab is a particularly interesting case. Here is the breakdown of his fairly uninspiring NHL career, Devils and non-Devils:
Devils: 24 games, .929 save%, 1.54 GAA, 2 shutouts, 7-6-2 record
Non-Devils: 123 games, .896 save%, 3.13 GAA, 4 shutouts, 35-57-11 record
I’d say the neutral zone trap works, what about you?
One final observation to keep in mind when Martin Brodeur ends up breaking Terry Sawchuk’s shutout record. If a composite of all of Brodeur’s backups (say Chris Van Schwabenssen), had played the same number of minutes that Brodeur has behind the same defence, and recorded shutouts at the same rate they actually did, they would have averaged about 5 shutouts per season and 55 in total. That would place them 17th on the all-time list, tied with Clint Benedict and one ahead of Bernie Parent.
If a bunch of career backups could have plausibly thrown up over 50 shutouts in a decade behind the New Jersey defence, then I think even the most hard-core supporters should at least reconsider Brodeur’s standing in the annals of the game.