While Martin Brodeur continues to play at an elite level at the age of 40, he isn’t the only goaltender on New Jersey’s roster to stand the test of time.
Johan Hedberg, now in his third season with the Devils, has proven to be as reliable of a backup as Lou Lamoriello could hope for — posting a 2-0-1 record, 0.66 goals against average and .973 save percentage thus far in 2013.
No youngster himself, Hedberg, 39, has certainly paid his dues over the course of his career. The Leksand, Sweden native didn’t break into the NHL until he was 27; and since then, he’s found success in Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Dallas, Atlanta and now New Jersey.
“The Moose,” as he’s affectionately been called since donning a Manitoba Moose helmet with the Penguins during the 2001 playoffs, has only gotten better with age: His GAA has dropped in each of the past three years, with his 2.22 figure in 2011-12 being a career best.
Deafeating the Penguins
This recent prosperity continued Sunday night, when Hedberg led New Jersey to a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh, stopping 23 of 24 shots faced. With stout play in net and some timely scoring, the Devils effectively swept a home-and-home set against Sidney Crosby and Co. — keeping NJ atop the Atlantic Division standings.
“(Hedberg) was outstanding,” DeBoer said following Sunday’s contest. “He’s been like that since the day I got here. He comes off the bench; he gives us games like that. It’s because of how hard he works. He’s such a good teammate, the guys play hard for him — you saw them blocking shots. They want to get him a win, and he deserves it.”
Surrendering just one goal versus the Penguins — a third period power-play tally via James Neal — Hedberg gave the Devils the stability they needed to jump out to a big 3-0 lead. The former ninth round pick was perfect in the first two periods, fighting off all 15 shots that came his way in the opening 40 minutes.
“They came out pretty strong in the first and we weathered that storm,” Hedberg said. “The second and third we were really, really strong. We got the second and third goal and they didn’t create much after that.”
Hedberg has now faced 74 shots in 2013, and has allowed just two of them to cross the goal line.
Understanding the Importance of a Strong Backup
Having a solid No. 2 goalie is vital in any season, but with the compressed schedule the NHL has implemented due to the recent work stoppage, it’s even more important this year. With less days off, starting netminders across the league will require more rest than normal to avoid being over-worked or injured. And given Brodeur’s age, the Devils need to be especially conscious of keeping the future Hall-of-Famer in good health heading into the spring.
With the way Hedberg looks right now, however, DeBoer should feel confident to go with his backup whenever Marty needs a break.
“I think with the 48-game schedule and the condensed schedule we have to take a big picture outlook,” DeBoer said in reference to his decision to start Hedberg on Sunday. “You’d like to sometimes keep going to a guy, but long-term it doesn’t make sense.”
Going Back to His Roots
If it wasn’t for Craig Patrick and Ivan Hlinkas’ willingness to give Hedberg a chance during the memorable 2000-01 campaign, there’s no telling where he’d be now. Pittsburgh was where he got his big break — something every scrappy, underrated goaltender needs at some point to make in the NHL.
Even though The Moose departed for Vancouver in 2003, he maintains a strong connection to the Penguins to this day. And anytime Hedberg gets the chance to play in the Steel City, there’s always a little extra on the line.
“Pittsburgh’s always been a special spot for me,” he said. “It was even more so back in the old building (now-razed Mellon Arena) — I don’t have any memories (at Consol Energy Center), but even coming into the city it gives me some flashbacks.”
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When Hedberg and Brodeurs’ contracts expire at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, the two will be 41 and 42, respectively. While nearly every professional athlete would be shells of their former selves at these ages, odds are New Jersey’s formidable goalie duo won’t deteriorate; but rather, will continue their recent ways.
“Our job is not to win every single hockey game. It’s to give our team a chance to win,” Brodeur said. “So far me and Heddy have been doing that and we have to keep doing that. We’re the type of team that’s not going to score 5-6 goals a game so we need to make the big saves.”
Andrew Hirsh is a credentialed NHL writer based in North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewhirsh or reach him via email at email@example.com.