Preparation, luck lead to goaltending durability
One of the hallmarks of Martin Brodeur's game has been his durability. Coming into this season, the Devils' netminder had played 70 or more games a remarkable 10 straight seasons, and 11 times in the past 12 seasons.|
And when you add in playoff games, he's played more than 80 games in a season 7 times (including 5 straight seasons), and 90 games twice -- 95 games in 1999-2000 and 97 games in 2000-01.
"He's a very competitive player, he loves to be in the net, he's playing a lot of games year after year," Patrick Roy, the all-time winningest goaltender in League history, told NHL.com. "It's amazing to see how many games he's been able to handle and for a long time."
"Year after year, not only the number of games that he's played, but the consistency level that he's shown," added Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. "His numbers keep getting better and that's not something that is easy to do."
Brodeur, however, will not add another 70-game season to his resume in 2007-08. He underwent surgery Thursday for a torn biceps tendon in his left arm and could be out for up to 4 months.
But before the injury, Brodeur was part of a a rare breed in that he has been able to effortlessly carry such a remarkable workload. Since the 2000-01 season only 15 other goalies have played at least 70 games, and only Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff have done it more than twice.
"I think you have to be realistic about how many games you are going to play," said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who played 76 games last season. "I don't think the way that things are set up that you can play every game. You want to do it and you want to be the guy in the net every night. I think that's common being a top goalie in the NHL, you want to play as much as you can as often as you can."
That desire, though, can be dulled by a 7-month regular season. Despite their Michelin Man look, don't be fooled -- goalies are just as vulnerable to injuries as any other player on the ice.
"When you come to the rink you just manage your body, pretty much," said Luongo. "You have to be lucky, too. There are a number of things that can happen during a game or practice. You always want to thank God that you are healthy and that you don't have any serious injuries."
After Brodeur, Luongo has the longest current streak of 70-plus seasons, with 4, and he's already played in 12 of the Canucks' 13 games this season. But it's taken more than luck and divine intervention to keep him in uniform night after night after night.
"I'm not the type of guy that likes to take a lot of days off," Luongo told NHL.com. "I like to go on the ice and get into a routine. Away from the rink, it's important to take care of yourself as far as eating and sleeping and making sure you're resting when it's time.
"You have bumps and bruises along the way all the time. It's very rare, especially for a goaltender, to be 100 percent healthy all the time. There are going to be bruises here and there and something maybe not feeling right, but as long as I can be in there and contributing to the team, then I'll play. In the last few years the only time I really missed was last year when I missed a week with some bruised ribs. I only missed time because I couldn't really move around in the net or else I would have been playing. You have to fight through some things. As long as you know you can't aggravate any injury by keeping on playing, I don't see why I would sit out."
Goalies do need to sit out, though -- as much to rest mentally as physically.
Nashville goalie coach Mitch Korn said much of his job is managing his goaltenders' schedule to maximize their energy levels.
"It's about saving physical energy," he said, "not having to put your equipment on twice some days, some days not putting it on at all. Part of our job is to trying to manage that. The schedule also dictates that. Three games in 4 nights, what do you do on the one you're not playing? Does he skate? Does he ride the bike to get rid of the lactic acid? Does he even come to the rink? Are they home or on the road? All that goes into consideration."
Miller played a career-high 76 games last season, and said by the end of that season, it was a struggle for him.
"The way a goaltender gets prepared for a season, you're not going to play 82 games, and for me 76 was a struggle," Miller told NHL.com. "I got tired and fatigued and that crept in."
That fatigue can lead to injuries and a decline in play.
After playing 73 games for the Edmonton Oilers in 2000-01, Tommy Salo saw his numbers drop across the board during the next 3 seasons, and he played his last NHL game in 2003-04. Arturs Irbe played 75 and 77 games with the Carolina Hurricanes between 1999 and 2001, but by 2003-04 he was playing in the ECHL. Felix Potvin played 71 games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2001-02, but a sprained knee limited him to just 42 games the following season and he was out of the League by 2004.
Kiprusoff played 74 games in 2005-06, but as his workload has gone north the last 2 seasons -- he played 74 games again in 2006-07 and 76 games last season -- his numbers have gone south. His win total has gone from 42 to 40 to 39; his shutouts have dropped from 10 to 7 to 2; his GAA has risen from 2.07 to 2.46 to 2.69; and his save percentage has slipped from .923 to .917 to .906.
Others, like Brodeur, thrive on the extra work.
"If you thrive on it, if you embrace it, if you love it, in a lot of ways it's stimulating and invigorating," said Korn. "If they don't play, they're bored. If you asked Marty Brodeur, he would much rather be in the net playing than watching. (Florida panther goalie Tomas) Vokoun was the same way."
Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who tied Brodeur for the League lead last season with 77 games, said he relished all the ice time.
"I would like this to be the only way," Nabokov told NHL.com. "I was enjoying the ride. In the first 40 games, the road was really smooth for us so I was enjoying playing because you learn a lot about yourself when you're playing a lot.
"I personally don't think it's hard because if you're really committed to it, it becomes part of your life and that makes it not that hard."
Prior to going to Nashville, Korn coached Dominik Hasek in Buffalo.
"Dom played a ton for us in Buffalo and we were offensively challenged," he said. "Dom knew that if he gave up 2, we wouldn't have a chance for a point. That was a year he was the first goalie in a long time to finish (with a GAA) under 2.00, and you want to talk about being under the gun not to make a mistake; and this guy, he thrived on it. He embraced it, he loved it. It wasn't a chore, it didn't wear on him -- it drove him."
Joe Day, who advises the Chicago Blackhawks by doing psychological evaluations on their players and prospects through his Michigan-based firm, Pondera Associates LLC, said the ability to carry a huge workload is a trait particular to individual players.
"For a guy like Marty, playing and getting his rhythm is restful for him," said Day. "For him, he probably gets more anxious and more stressed out if he's not playing. It's counterintuitive. … You think you're giving him a rest and you're not.
"He thrives on doing it and he's a fish out of water when he's not playing."
Miller hopes to join the rest of the goaltending iron men. During the summer, he tailored his workouts to combat the fatigue and improve his stamina so he could carry a heavier workload.
"I tried some different things in my workout this summer," he said. "I had a trainer and I focused a lot more on my core strength. Being a goaltender there's a lot of strain on your hips, groin and back. Hopefully with the improvements in that area, I can be less fatigued and I can focus on the ice in practice and I can be in a lot better condition.
"I want to take the necessary preparations, like my nutrition, which is not very good. I'm a thin guy as it is and as the season wears on I need more fuel in the body. I need to be more efficient in practice. I need to conserve energy in the right spots and put that energy into where I need to at game time."
Thanks to the schedule format that was unveiled in the 2005-06 season, it was easier for goalies to play more often. Travel was cut down, games meant more and with the salary cap, there was a wider discrepancy between a team's No. 1 goalie and the backup.
That reality is reflected in the number of netminders who played more than 70 games in recent seasons. The number of goalies who passed the 70-game mark has risen from 3 in 2005-06 to 5 in 2006-07 to 6 this past season. And through Tuesday, 6 goalies had played at least 11 games.
"It's unique to each individual," said Day. "Some players hyper-focus and that takes a lot of energy. Others could be more relaxed and in the zone through breathing exercises and what-not. It's different for each individual.
"It's different for each guy. For Marty it comes naturally to him to be a 70-game guy because he thrives on that where others take more mental work to play on that edge to perform at a high level."