Devils Can Count On Hedberg

Johan Hedberg was stupendous in his season debut but he and his team suffered a frustrating 2-1 SO loss against Boston on Tuesday.

Johan Hedberg was stupendous in his season debut but he and his team suffered a frustrating 2-1 SO loss against Boston on Tuesday.

By BRIAN FITZSIMMONS
There’s an awful lot to like about collecting eight points through the first five games, especially considering the New Jersey Devils seemed to trudge through their brief preparation period with more questions than answers.

Everybody wondered if the loss of Zach Parise would sting the offense, if an Eastern Conference championship hangover would linger throughout the better part of the winter, and, of course, if the 40-year-old arms and legs of Martin Brodeur would hold up.In the infant stages of the new season, New Jersey discovered it could rely on timely scoring and the future first-ballot Hall of Fame netminder playing as sharp as ever. Those are good things.

But what happens when coach Pete DeBoer is forced to rest Brodeur? With the team’s schedule being spread out so far, the Devils hadn’t needed to call upon Johan Hedberg, but figured he’d play a crucial role on the team with 10 sets of back-to-back games still ahead.

Based on his performance last night, that’s also a good thing.

Despite falling to the Boston Bruins, 2-1, in a shootout at the TD Garden, Hedberg was sensational. He strippled the Eastern Conference’s hottest club of any offensive rhythm until Nathan Horton blasted a shot past his reach with just over four minutes remaining in the third period to knot the score at 1-1.

Through a rigorous overtime and five rounds of a shootout, Hedberg looked the part of a player who can really help the Devils win, and win a lot, with or without Brodeur. Sure, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand wrapped up an escape victory and ran Boston’s point total to a whopping 11 thus far, but Hedberg displayed exactly what the Devils needed to see.

The 39-year-old will hear his name again soon too. The first back-to-back set comes this weekend with the Devils visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday and then taking on the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum the following afternoon.

“I’m prepared for however they want to play it,” Hedberg told the Bergen Record. “Playing or sitting, it’s still a matter of being prepared and being ready when it’s time to play.”

In 27 appearances last season, Hedberg went 17-7-2 with a career-best 2.23 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and four shutouts.

On Tuesday, he made his first stride toward duplicating, or perhaps exceeding those numbers.

Five games in, there are still some questions. The Devils learned, however, that they could count on the man who owns the nickname “Moose.”

And that’s certainly a good thing.

Brian Fitzsimmons, a senior writer and editor at MSG Varsity in New Jersey, previously covered hockey at PA SportsTicker and NHL.com. He is the award-winning author of Celtic Pride: How Coach Kevin Boyle Took St. Patrick to the Top of High School Basketball.

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