Last week, I wrote that if the strong start to the season continued for the New Jersey Devils, Keith Kinkaid would need to remain on his game throughout the month of October as Cory Schneider worked on returning to full health. Well, for the most part, that took place this past week. In the three games since that post, the Devils are 2-1, with a fourth game coming up in a couple of hours in Philadelphia.
Keith has backed this team to a stellar 4-1-0 start. Yes, they are coming off of a loss in what was a winnable game against Colorado, but that sour taste does not take away from the fact that this is exactly what NJ needed, and will continue to need moving forward. Before the season, I said that if they went 5-2-2 in October, that would put them in contention moving forward, instead of buried in the standings looking to catch up. While I would still say the same thing today, a 4-1-0 start does get you beginning to not only hope for better, but expect better. I mean, just check out Sean Tierney’s GF% vs. xGF% chart heading into today’s game (and click on that link as he continues to update it throughout the year, as well as for charts that look at a million other things which are awesome):
The Devils are not only producing the best goals for percentage in the NHL, but they also have the second best xGF% at nearly 60%, behind only San Jose. They are playing well, and should be playing well. It is not all a mirage.
And of course, a lot of the praise for that should go to Blockaid, who already has two shutouts in this short season. And even with the four goals against on Thursday, his numbers are still pristine: a .941 save percentage and a 1.61 goals against average. Those are both sparkling. And to dive a little deeper, let’s once again turn to Tierney, who charts every goalie’s goals saved above average per 60 (GSAA/60). As of last night, here is how Keith stacked up compared to his peers:
What that tells you is that Kinkaid is making the most of his relatively few shots against. He has the 5th best GSAA at this point across all goalies in the NHL, behind only John Gibson, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, and Devan Dubnyk. The red in Keith’s bar means he sees few shots against, which is true. The team in front of him has been stellar in preventing shots against, like the Devils of old. Before last night’s games, the Devils were 8th in the NHL in shots against per 60, allowing a measly 27.87 shots to get to Kinkaid per game. That goes along with a similarly low Corsi against per 60, sitting 7th in the NHL at 50.86.
So, we can clearly see that beyond just the wins and losses, Blockaid is having a great start to the season. 5 games is not a big sample size, of course, but when we think back to last season, we start to see more of a trend. The playoffs discounted, when Keith was off of his game and Cory was the much better player, Kinkaid has had the majority of the starts, and has been the better player. Starting on March 1st, when Cory returned to the lineup, he has had a grand total of five regular season starts. Keith had 14 starts over that same time frame last season, and of course has all five starts so far. And he was a very good goaltender down the stretch last season. Across those 14 starts, he had eight with at least a .929 save percentage. He has been playing very much like a starter, and that matters.
Now of course, to Cory’s credit, he did have offseason hip surgery, and admitted that it bothered him on and off throughout the year last year, so that could have been a factor to worse play during the season. And beyond that, the real big check in his favor was that when the intensity ratcheted up for the postseason, he was the goalie between the two that was ready and on point, while Keith looked shaky and off his game. All of Cory’s save percentages in that series against Tampa were .944 or higher, while Keith did not come close to even reaching .900. There is something to be said about being clutch, and that was very much in Cory’s favor, not Keith’s.
However, for our purposes now, this is not about clutch performances in the playoffs, but rather regular season consistency and solid play. For that, Keith has continued to show since March that he is playing as well as a starter, and right now for this year, is actually playing better than most starters in the NHL. So the question becomes when Cory does return, what does John Hynes do? Cory is getting a rehab start today for Binghamton, so his return is imminent. However, there is no way he can become the immediate full-time starter given how Kinkaid has been playing. I would think that at worst, for the near future, Keith has earned himself at least a 50-50 share of starts, if not more depending on if he continues to dominate and perhaps Cory does not. To me, you have to play the hot hand, and if Kinkaid continues to be hot, he has to be the guy. The dynamic might change a couple times throughout the year, and that is fine. Kinkaid will cool off eventually, and Cory will get his shot at regular starts. Honestly, it is a good problem for Hynes to have, having two starting-quality goaltenders. And if he can play them correctly throughout the season, it will maximize both players, and give New Jersey a much better chance at wins night in and night out. And right now, there is no doubt that Kinkaid has earned himself some more playing time, at least in my opinion.
Do you agree? How do you think John Hynes should handle the starts between Kinkaid and Schneider upon the return of Cory, which will happen soon? Has Keith earned a larger share of the starts, or are we still giving the nod to Schneider? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.