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Quality Starts Are Rare in NJ These Days

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Today, I give a quick look into the recent poor play of New Jersey goaltending, and how that has been a real drag on this team’s performance since the beginning of November.

Winnipeg Jets v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For anyone who follows baseball, you probably know what a quality start is for a pitcher. 6 innings pitched, and 3 earned runs or less. It’s a simple metric, and you can really debate whether or not 6 innings and 3 earned runs should count as quality or not, but that’s the stat.

For hockey, Rob Vollman, now employed by Los Angeles but known for his hockey analytics, looked to develop a similar metric for goaltenders. His determination of a quality start in hockey for a goaltender looked like this: the goalie must stop at least a league average number of shots (.917 save percentage), or play at least as well as a replacement goalie (.885 save percentage) while allowing two goals or fewer.

Hockey Reference, thankfully, tracks quality starts for goalies. Their wording of the definition of a quality start is slightly different, but is essentially the same: goalie must have a higher save percentage than the league average, or have at least an .885 save percentage when facing 20 or fewer shots. They also note that according to Vollman, a goalie with a quality start percentage over 60% is doing fantastic work, while a goalie with a quality start percentage under 50% is playing poorly. The league average, apparently, hovers around 53%.

Given that definition, when you look at goaltending for the New Jersey Devils recently, you will notice that quality starts have been near impossible to come by. Here is a chart of games for the team going back to November 1st, showing which goalie played, their shots faced and save percentage, and whether or not it was a quality start. Information from NHL.com for both goalies.

So as you can see, quality start percentage for NJ goaltending over that timeframe has been really poor. Over that 18 game stretch I charted, Kinkaid and Schneider have combined for 6 quality starts. That is a .333, or 33.3% quality start percentage. When the league average is around 53%, and anything under 50% is considered poor, to be at 33.3% is abysmal.

However, it gets worse the more recent you look. Over the last ten games, the goalies have combined for 2 quality starts, a 20% quality start percentage. Keith Kinkaid had one against Montreal, and Cory Schneider had one against Carolina. How about over the last seven games though, where the Devils have one win? The Devils have 0 quality starts. In fact, in only one of those seven games did the goalie actually attain a save percentage above .900, and that led to the team’s only win in that span.

Simply put, goaltending for the Devils has been poor for a large stretch of this season. CJ mentioned goaltending a little bit in his discussion of why the Devils are not the same team they were last year, and this really just hammers that home. Schneider might not be the same goalie he was, but while Keith has had some strong stretches for this team, overall he has not been a stellar option in net for John Hynes. And by stellar, I really mean someone who is a consistent performer night in and night out. His inconsistencies doom this team for weeks at a time, and that cannot happen, especially for a team that is only 21st in the NHL in goals for. The Devils need a strong backstop to keep the wins coming, they cannot overcome poor goalie play by scoring lots of goals. When Kinkaid is hot, he can be the goalie that the Devils need to win games. But as to when that happens, and for how long he remains hot, it is always unknown, and that is never good.

According to Hockey Reference, Kinkaid has 10 quality starts on the year so far. However, as we just looked at, he only has 5 since November 1st. His October was pretty darn good, and not coincidentally, the Devils finished October with a positive record and a good position in the standings. If they have any aspirations of moving up the standings anytime soon, Kinkaid will need to get into another hot streak where he rattles off quality start after quality start, and if the Devils want to salvage their season, this really needs to happen asap.