With two games in the books, it can be easy to overreact. There is no reason not to be excited about the New Jersey Devils right now, and we all absolutely should be, but we don’t want to overreact either. This can become especially difficult when looking at players or statistics. Two games is a horrible sample size, and the last thing we should be doing is making sweeping conclusions about certain players because of what the numbers say right now.
So while keeping in mind that I am trying to avoid doing that today, I still want to talk about Keith Kinkaid, because while a lot of the attention has rightfully gone to the great offense that this team is putting forth, I want to throw more light on the great job that he is doing between the pipes. 11 goals scored over two games for the NJ offense is incredible and is obviously an unsustainable pace; Kinkaid’s stats are also probably unsustainable given his career numbers, but they are also exactly what the Devils need this month with Cory Schneider still on the shelf.
Through two games, Keith has 38 saves to go with only two goals against. That equates to a .950 save percentage. Of course, the shutout against the champs is the main driver behind that number, but he also played well in Sweden, allowing only two goals to McDavid and a very offensively-capable Edmonton squad. For a goalie who had some poor runs of games last season, especially his last two starts of the year (in the playoffs), that is an awesome turnaround.
The thing is, with the upcoming schedule, for the Devils to maintain this strong start and get a good jump out of the gate in the Metro, he will need to continue playing at a high level. Perhaps not a .950 save percentage level with shutouts every other game, but starter-worthy numbers. John Hynes said the other day that there is a chance Schneider could be cleared to play this upcoming week, but even if he is, there is no way he instantly jumps into a nightly-role as the clear number one. Coming back from hip surgery, I would believe he will need to be eased in somewhat. That means that most likely, even if Schneider returns this week, Kinkaid will still get the majority of October starts.
And as John mentioned after the win against Washington, the remaining October schedule is not an easy one. Edmonton and Washington were not easy opponents at all, and the Devils are 2-0-0 currently, but they will need to keep on the gas to get through this upcoming gauntlet:
10/14 vs. San Jose. 2017-18 Record: 45-27-10, 100 points, 3rd Pacific
10/16 vs. Dallas. 2017-18 Record: 42-32-8, 92 points, 6th Central
10/18 vs. Colorado. 2017-18 Record: 43-30-9, 95 points, 4th Central
10/20 @ Philadelphia. 2017-18 Record: 42-26-14, 98 points, 3rd Metropolitan
10/25 vs Nashville. 2017-18 Record: 53-18-11, 117 points, 1st Central
10/27 vs. Florida. 2017-18 Record: 44-30-8, 96 points, 4th Atlantic
10/30 @ Tampa Bay. 2017-18 Record: 54-23-5, 113 points, 1st Atlantic
All of those teams ended the season with 90+ points, and only one was under 95 points. Not all of these teams have started hot like New Jersey has, Florida does not have a win in 2 games and Philadelphia only has 4 points in 4 games, but these are all still dangerous opponents. This is especially true offensively. Of those seven teams, last season only Dallas scored less goals over the course of the regular season than New Jersey did, and NJ was ranked 15th in the league in goals for.
This means that throughout the rest of October, Kinkaid will be seeing lots of firepower coming at him. Even if the Devils can maintain a strong offensive presence the rest of October, goaltending will still be vital in order to come out of these games with points, and that means that Keith needs to stay on point. If he can keep NJ in most of these games, the offense so far has shown that they have the ability to get the job done.
The Devils’ hot start through two games has been awesome, but in order to cement it and really generate a nice cushion in the division against some teams, the quality play we have seen so far needs to continue throughout October. And perhaps the most important player in that puzzle is Keith Kinkaid, who has started red hot and needs to keep it up. He probably won’t end the month with a .950 save percentage, but if you tell me right now he will end it with a .925 save percentage (versus his career .913 sv%) while starting 4 or 5 of the next seven games, I would take that in a heartbeat. That would absolutely give New Jersey a strong chance to win basically all of those games. It won’t be an easy task, but if he can stay on the top of his game, the Devils have a chance to get through October as one of the better teams in the division! The hot start last season gave them just enough of a cushion to hold off Florida and take a wild card, and they may need that again this year with those same Panthers struggling so far.