NEWARK, N.J. - Four-time Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur practised with the New Jersey Devils for the first time since having elbow surgery in November, and hopes to play in a game within 10 days.
The 36-year-old Brodeur even quipped that if fellow goaltenders Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes either got lost or fell ill over the next 24 hours, he would tell coach Brent Sutter to put him in on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks.
"I know I am not ready, shooting the puck and there are a couple of little things in my game," Brodeur said after the short practice. "But if everybody goes down, OK, I'll go."
"Wishful thinking," Sutter said when told Brodeur's offer, adding he probably would not use him until after the team finishes an upcoming three-game road trip. Brodeur will make the trip with the team.
The first game after that would be here against Colorado on Feb. 26.
Brodeur, who had a torn biceps in his left elbow repaired on Nov. 6, stepped on the ice around noon, splitting time in goal with Weekes, while Clemmensen was in goal at the other end. The practice lasted 20 minutes, but Brodeur stayed on the ice for another 30 minutes, working with about a half-dozen players.
"I wasn't nervous," Brodeur said. "I was anxious to get going and see the shots and the speed of the guys. It's different than drills when guys are coming at high pace."
The first drill that Brodeur faced a barrage of slap shots by players skating the length of the ice and firing from the tops of the circles. He stopped every one and then skated to the corner where he shared a laugh with goaltending coach Jacques Caron.
"He was counting all my bad rebounds," said Brodeur, who has been doing shooting drills with players and coaches in recent weeks. "I said: 'We're going to start early with that.' It was funny."
Brodeur said that his elbow feels fine, noting that he occasionally feels some expected twinges when he stretches for wayward shots. He said his technique and conditioning will come the more he plays.
The way Clemmensen and Weekes have played, the Devils have the luxury of not having to rush Brodeur back into the lineup. The Atlantic Division leaders have won 12 of 14 games and opened a cushion in the division.
Clemmensen has taken over as the No. 1 goaltender and posted a 24-11-1 mark, including consecutive shutouts in his past two starts.
"It was an important thing for me when I came back that my team was in a good position, so you don't feel the pressure of 'Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready?"' said Brodeur, whose injury was the first major one of his 15-year career. "Now we'll just let them play until I am 100 per cent. I hoped it would happen like that, and it did."
Brodeur, who always plays in more than 70 games a season, doesn't want to come back slowly once he returns.
"I want to play," he said. "If I have to show up somewhere, I'd like to play the game. I have been like that my whole life and I don't think that will change. What will happen is in their hands. I have never forced anyone to play me and I won't start now. That's my personality, whether people like to believe it or not."
Clemmensen and Weekes, who has won his past four starts, are willing to do whatever Sutter wants down the stretch.
"It won't affect me, in how I prepare for games or my confidence level," said Clemmensen, who posted a 1-0 win over Boston on Friday night. "It's something good. I just take it one day at a time and if they need me to play, I'll be ready."
Clemmensen said Sutter has not discussed how he intends to use Brodeur. The coach insisted he is approaching everything on a day-to-day basis, adding that he wants to see Brodeur go through a full practice before playing in a game.
Veteran Jay Pandolfo has worked with Brodeur over the past week.
"He looks better every day," Pandolfo said. "He doesn't need much time to get going. I don't think he skates a whole lot before the season, so he just needs a little work and he's ready. He never going to look bad."
Brodeur posted a 44-27 record with a 2.17 goals-against average in winning the Vezina last season. His seven seasons with 40 or more wins are an NHL record, and his 2.20 career goals-against average is the lowest in the NHL's modern era. He set a single-season record for wins with 48 in 2006-07, breaking Bernie Parent's old mark of 47.
Brodeur has 544 career wins, eight shy of breaking Patrick Roy's NHL record of 551. Brodeur is five shutouts from tying Terry Sawchuk's NHL record of 103.