Goaltending for the past couple of seasons has been a sore point for our New Jersey Devils; if not for the heroics of Keith Kinkaid at the end of 2017-18, the Devils probably would have remained in a “no playoffs since 2012” drought. Then last season happened...and as we all know the results weren’t pretty. Kinkaid was beyond inconsistent and Cory Schneider couldn’t stop a beach ball. A position where the Devils had seemingly been strong in previous years now seemed like an imminent problem.
Then, late December of 2018 rolled around.
With Schneider on injured reserve, the Devils called up MacKenzie Blackwood from Binghamton. Blackwood, who had been with the organization since the 2015 Draft, had struggled at times including once being demoted to the ECHL. His first appearance came on the 18th in a relief role against Toronto; while he looked solid, he still allowed two goals on 10 shots. The next game against Columbus, Mac got the start; while he again allowed two goals, he also prevented 36 (!) others from going in. The Devils would unfortunately lose 2-1, but the legend of MacBlack had begun.
So why is this an article? Isn’t it a forgone conclusion that Blackwood will get the lion’s share of games? Well, Cory Schneider isn’t ready to roll over and give up the starter’s net just yet. While he still had a couple of bad games (let’s be honest, what goalie doesn’t?) he began to have games where he was competitive again. Cory was once again making the saves that initially impressed many of us when he first joined the Devils in 2012-13. It appeared that the start of his season had been hampered by injuries and the real Cory had resurfaced.
So who’s going to be the “go-to” goalie in 2019-20?
To be honest, the title is almost a cop out, because I think there’s still some evaluating to be done, mainly during training camp. Couple that with the fact that Mac is a rookie (by NHL definition he still is) on the rise, while Schneider is the veteran starter, we may see an almost 50/50 split of the starts this season. Coach John Hynes has shown that he has no hesitance to ride the hot hand, and start whichever goalie on his roster is performing best.
If we look at the stats from last season (and should the players continue to trend in their current directions), I think it establishes who should be going into the upcoming season as the #1.
- In the 21 games he started, Blackwood posted a sub-.900 in six of them. The other 15 varied in how far above .900 he was, but they all were over.
- Upon his return from injury, Schneider would start 16 games and similarly posted a sub-.900 in six; this means he only had 10 post-injury games where the start could even be considered for quality.
- Schneider only appeared in three more games total (including relief appearances), and only played 108 more minutes of hockey last season.
- Blackwood’s save percentage was superior with his .918 beating Schneider’s .903.
- MacKenzie also bested Cory in GAA with a 2.61 to 3.06.
There’s still a lot of time to make a decision (we’re writing about this in July for goodness’ sake) but the statistics and the trends coupled with the ice on play and “vision test” of watching the games shows that Blackwood should be considered the Devils’ starter right now. The sample size is small, but he has shown the potential to be a starter in this league; on top of that, he should have an improved defense playing in front of him this season (P.K. Subban and Ty Smith will be upgrades over Connor Carrick and whichever member of the rotating cast that was being rolled out as the third lefty behind Andy Greene and Will Butcher) which can only help him face fewer high danger chances.
This doesn’t mean Schneider is a $6M piece of driftwood; he’s still going to be relied upon for a large number of games (I’ll guess 30-35 at this way too early juncture) and he’s still going to be a useful veteran mentor to the younger Blackwood, who won’t turn 23 until midway through the season. With the Devils making improvements to their roster this offseason through the draft, trades, free agency, and with more youngsters coming in, both goalies may see themselves having better 2019-20 seasons than 2018-19.
What are your thoughts on the Devils’ goaltending situation? Are you a believer in one player over the other? Do you believe goal is once again a position the Devils can feel comfortable with? Do you think either Schneider or Blackwood will have a season that established one as the true #1 for Jersey’s Team over the other? Leave any and all thoughts below, thanks as always for reading, and Happy 4th of July to those celebrating!