Today brings about the third post in our week-long New Jersey Devils 2019-20 season preview. After CJ’s Monday post on the forwards, and John’s continuation yesterday with the defense, today I’m going to be looking at the only players left to profile: the goaltenders. While some of what these guys do is dependent upon the team in front of them, ultimately, they’re the last line of defense for keeping the puck from entering the net. Last season was a mixed bag of results at best; will 2019-20 be better?
What Happened Last Season?
Maybe “mixed bag” was putting last season lightly; the Devils allowed the sixth most goals in the league while also having the third worst goal differential. Did the injuries hurt the team? Absolutely, but that doesn’t excuse the poor, inconsistent goaltending that the team had to deal with last season:
Whole bunch of “yikes” among those numbers; what stands out most right away is that Keith Kinkaid started exactly half of the season for the Devils yet only managed an awful save percentage of .891. Consider the fact that the Devils moved him prior to the trade deadline, and it makes you wonder how a change didn’t come about sooner.
Then you remember that for a while, the other option was to go with Cory Schneider, whose numbers were even more pathetic prior to an early 2019 resurgence. Schneider’s rebounding came after time off to heal nagging injuries, and while a .903 isn’t great by NHL standards, his performances towards the end of the season inspired hope that performances that attributed to his year long win-less streak would be in the rear view mirror.
Then there’s MacKenzie Blackwood who, in limited action, posted the best save percentage of the bunch with a .918, and also strung together almost as many shutouts as Kinkaid in roughly half the amount of ice time. While Mac faltered at times while in net, he like the others didn’t exactly have a stellar defense playing in front of him; while again some blame must lie on the men with the masks, a non-injured, more competitive defense may have helped to alleviate some of the woes.
Well, this isn’t going to be a very long section for today’s piece; Kinkaid has moved on to Montreal to backup Carey Price. Schneider returns and the biggest change here is that he appears healthier than he has been in the past two seasons. Blackwood slides in as the other regular goalie this season, and he will (probably) get more games this season than he did last year. Maybe the tag of “starter” changes? We’ve seen these players before and the hope for all Devils fans should be that the biggest change for the goaltending this campaign is the results.
What to Expect This Season?
The Devils goalies suffered from some bad luck and bounces last season (sadly we have to remember that this game happened), but that’s not excusing them from all responsibility as I alluded to above. I believe we can expect to see some more consistency in net this year; while Kinkaid was admirable in leading the march to the 2018 playoffs, you could have found a picture of his face in the dictionary next to the word “inconsistent” last season. I wish him nothing but the best in Montreal (aside from when they play the Devils) but I’m also thankful he won’t be costing the team games by allowing soft goals at inopportune times.
Speaking of soft goals at inopportune times, Cory Schneider needs to be the Cory Schneider from down the stretch, the IIHF World Championship and the preseason, not the pre-injury one from the earlier part of last season. If Cory can recover to even an average NHL goaltender, and he stops letting inopportune soft shots in, then the Devils will have a better shot at winning hockey games more regularly.
His counterpart, Blackwood, will need to be as solid as last season at the least, if not improving upon his 2018-19 success. MacKenzie had a rough early outing this preseason, but some of that was bad bounces (and AHL level defenders in front of him) and he looked solid against the Bruins. If he continues to develop with more consistency in his game, he could displace Schneider as the Devils’ “go-to” option in net this season.
Personally, after how last season ended, and from watching the preseason games, I think we see an almost 50-50 split of games for these two, with whoever gets a hot hand first being the one to see more games. I think we will also see improved numbers, with Schneider coming back to an average starter’s save percentage and Blackwood increasing his just a bit. I think adding P.K. Subban should hopefully give the team another player who helps to move the puck in the correct direction, which could impact the amount of pucks going in the net in a positive way.
What do you think about the New Jersey Devils’ goalie situation for the upcoming season? Who do you see seizing the lion’s share of games? Are you concerned about any regression from either player? Do you believe Blackwood could break out and become a true #1? Please leave your thoughts and comments down below and thanks as always for reading! Come back tomorrow for Part IV of our season preview!