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The Ballad of MacKenzie Blackwood

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2019-20 has been a forgettable season for the New Jersey Devils, but it’s also been one that has seen the ups and downs of MacKenzie Blackwood. We take a look at his season so far today, and how his recent games have given rise to some optimism.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

MacKenzie Blackwood has had a roller coaster of a season so far for our New Jersey Devils. While starting as seemingly part of a 1A/1B situation with Cory Schneider, the Devils stumbled out of the gate, and while Blackwood certainly looked like the better goalie, neither really looked great. How bad was the tandem? The goaltending (and team in general) was so poor that the Devils went out and acquired Louis Domingue from Tampa Bay.

Schneider would be waived for the purpose of assignment to Binghamton on November 18th and brought Domingue back to the NHL level. All the while, Blackwood was the constant in New Jersey; he would get the majority of the playing time despite Domingue replacing him in the midst of a rough outing on November 22nd, and starting (and getting his first win) the next night.

That would be it for Domingue as a bright spot however; over his next 8 12 periods of hockey (prior to his injury) he allowed 16 goals, or roughly two per period. He would be pulled once in that span after letting in five goals in 20 minutes against Buffalo. Blackwood would have a bad night and a half in that span (he wasn’t great in relief in Buffalo, but who was great in that game?), but the net again seemed to belong to him, even before Domingue went down.

Blackwood’s season can be described as underwhelming so far, but there’s reason for optimism. The December 3rd loss to Vegas was Jersey’s first game under Alain Nasreddine; former coach John Hynes was fired that same day, giving the Devils no time to change anything to fit Nasreddine’s vision. I’m not going to say he’s the right person to lead the team beyond this season, but Blackwood has been outstanding since the coaching change.

NHL.com’s stats are frightening when you look at goalies who have made multiple appearances for their teams this season. Changing the search to remove players who have only appeared in once contest leaves us with 70 goalies; numbers 69 and 70 on that list are Louis Domingue and Cory Schneider respectively. Reverting to goalies who have played regularly (apparently currently defined as a minimum of 11 games played) Blackwood is tied for 27th along with Anaheim’s John Gibson. It’s not exactly fantastic goaltending, but A) it’s marked improvement from the start of the season and B) it’s way better than either of the other two is providing.

Back to the optimism for Blackwood: his last five outings have been nothing short of phenomenal. While the Vegas game was a stinker, he posted a .966 SV% in a one goal outing against Chicago which the Devils sadly lost in a shootout. He followed that with a .943 SV% in a 2-0 loss to Dallas where if any of the others Devils had shown up he could have gotten a better result. A 19 save, no goals against relief effort of the injured Domingue came before two winning, one goal against performances of .969 and .963.

Blackwood has certainly had an up and down season, but he’s still young and he’s showing some consistency now after a rough beginning to this season. The Devils need Blackwood to continue developing and to have more games like the last five, as this would enable them to be a more solid team going forward. They also need to be sure that the defense continues to support Mac, as while he needs to be reliable, he shouldn’t have to stand on his head and drag the rest of the team to victory every night either. I feel as though by the end of the season, we should have a solid feeling as to whether he is “The Guy” or if we should be looking to acquire an established goalie.

What are your thoughts on the season that MacKenzie Blackwood has had so far? Are you shocked to see the gap between him and Schneider/Domingue in their statistics? Do you believe Blackwood will be the Devils’ starter for years to come, or is he just on a hot streak right now? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!