For anyone who watched the game in Washington the other night, it was clearly obvious that Keith Kinkaid was the first, second, and third star of the game for the New Jersey Devils. He stood on his head in the crease, keeping the Devils in a game that they were otherwise getting wrecked in. Washington had more shots, way more attempts, way more possession, and otherwise made the Devils look bad. The CSN commentators (via NBCSN) noted how the Devils wanted to make their opponents work for every inch of ice, but instead the Devils just gave the Caps free reign to leave their own zone and cross the neutral zone. Without Kinkaid, the Devils lose that game 1-4, not win 2-1 in a shootout.
It has been a limited sample size this season for Kinkaid, but in 9 starts he has a sleek .930 save percentage, and in the games he has started, the Devils have accumulated 10 of a possible 18 points, which is more than good for a backup goaltender in the NHL. Furthermore, he has been seriously worked in most of his starts, averaging almost 34 saves per game, making at least 30 saves in 5 of his 9 starts, or 56% of his starts. It has not been like he has gotten by with minimal work; on the contrary, he has been tested over and over again this season, and more often than not has come up aces.
The question, then, is should he start more. I am not suggesting that he should become the new starter. No one is questioning that Cory Schneider is still the #1 goaltender of this team and will continue to be that for years. Despite what has been a down year, he is an all-star and one of the better goalies in the league. In my opinion, it would take him producing at a mediocre level for a lot longer than he currently has before I would consider his position on the team differently. Others may think differently, but that is my opinion of the situation.
While I am not suggesting Kinkaid becomes the starter, what I am asking is whether or not his number should be called more often. As of now, he has 9 starts in 36 games. He is starting exactly 25% of New Jersey’s games this season. 11 goalies have more starts than Schneider, but some are because they are playing out of their minds (Sergei Bobrovsky, Devan Dubnyk), and others are because there is no real backup because of injury (Peter Budaj, Steve Mason) or their backup is nonexistent (Cam Talbot, Frederik Andersen, Tuukka Rask). Teams with a competent backup tend to play them on a more consistent basis than the Devils do. Examples: Antti Raanta, Andrei Vasilevskiy (even before Bishop got hurt), Jimmy Howard (also before injury), Anders Nilsson.
For me personally, I don’t see why he shouldn’t start more. Last year Schneider started 58 games to Kinkaid’s 20, but there was also a stretch there where Cory was hurt and Kinkaid was starting most games. Without that, it would have been more skewed towards Schneider. Even with that injury, of those 78 games, 20 starts equates to basically 25%, the same percentage Keith is at this year. However, last year there was a reason as to why it was skewed that way: Cory was a beast last season, whereas Kinkaid was the one playing at a mediocre level. Schneider ended with a .924 save percentage to Kinkaid’s .904. This year, those numbers are basically reversed, with Kinkaid having a .930 and Schneider rocking a .904. So if hockey is a meritocracy like it perhaps should be, why should Kinkaid be receiving a similar percentage of starts this year if he is playing considerably better? Better play should mean a higher percentage of starts, at least in my opinion.
Again, I am not suggesting that Kinkaid all of a sudden be the one getting 75% of the starts to Cory’s 25%. That would be crazy. I am not even sure that I am suggesting a 50-50 split the rest of the way. But if Kinkaid is actually improving like it seems he might be, then I do think that he should be getting more than 25% of the starts. That would be beneficial for multiple reasons. First, and perhaps the most obvious benefit, would be that the goalie that is currently playing better would be playing more. It would give the Devils a better chance to win on a nightly basis in the short term. There is nothing bad about that unless you are already the one who believes they should be tanking. Next, it would take some of the burden off of Cory’s shoulders. Schneider has started a very large percentage of games for a bad team over the last couple years, a team that does not give him much goal support on a nightly basis. That has to weigh on someone, and make them think at least to a degree that they have to stop all shots or else the game is lost. It is like a pitcher that gets no run support and thinks that they need a shutout each time they take the mound. It can wear someone down mentally. With Kinkaid starting more, it would take some of the mental burden off of his shoulders.
To play devil’s advocate (no pun intended) for a minute, however, Kinkaid has indeed only started 9 games this year. To put that in comparison, after his first 9 starts this year, Schneider had a much more pristine .928 save percentage, very similar to Kinkaid’s .930. Only after a much larger volume of starts, and especially after the Devils started falling apart after their 9-3-3 start, did Cory’s save percentage fall to smithereens. Keith’s save percentage could conceivably do the same thing over his next 9 starts, especially if he starts getting starts on a more consistent basis. The added pressure, or the added workload, could doom him like it has doomed his counterpart this year.
In the end, however, I just think that is another reason to play Kinkaid more. How will we know that his save percentage will fall like Cory’s did unless we find out? Let him get more starts, give him more responsibility on this team, and let’s see if he really is improved or if he just had a nice 9 game stretch. If he starts to perform poorly, then go back to a 75-25 split and let Schneider figure out his problems with more action. But if he keeps playing well, maybe a 60-40 split is appropriate, or whatever numbers John Hynes and Co. come up with. If you consider this season to be basically in the tank already given the huge deficit they find themselves in the standings at this point, then there is no reason not to find out. And on the contrary, if you feel the Devils still have a shot, then it makes all the more sense to play the hot hand, and that is what Keith Kinkaid is right now, not Cory Schneider.
What are your thoughts about Kinkaid possibly getting a higher percentage of starts for the New Jersey Devils? Do you think that it is a good idea? If so, are there reasons that I did not mention as to why he should? Or do you disagree with the notion, and do you instead believe that they should keep riding Schneider? If so, why do you believe that? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.