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Bad Goaltending is Exacerbating the Devils Problems.

The hot seat is warming up for the coaching staff, the power play is hot garbage, and the Devils are porous defensively. But despite these flaws, the goaltending doesn’t get an excuse, and the duo of Bernier and Blackwood has come nowhere near to meeting preseason expectations.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s that time of year. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. It’s that time when we slowly watch any hopes of a Devils playoff birth sink away for the 9th time in the last 10 years. This, despite having a great offseason and a solid start to the season. A roster that added a ton of talent with Bernier, Hamilton, Graves, Mercer, Seigenthaler (technically not an offseason addition), and Tatar has somehow still managed to find itself in 7th place in the division and 6 points out of a wild-card just a third of the way through the season. It’s a familiar story to Devils fans at this point, but certainly not one that gets any easier to watch.

But as the seat grows steadily warmer under the seat of Lindy Ruff and co it is time to examine another of the many issues this team has had this year. That being the inability to find a goaltender that can actually make a difficult save. Now, I’m going to throw in some major caveats here. First, I am not excusing the coaching. I wrote last week about the coaching staff deserving blame for the team’s recent play, and I haven’t moved from that position. And, don’t get me wrong, the Devils have not made it easy on their net-minders. They are in the bottom half of the league in most defensive metrics, including SA/60, CA/60, xGA/60, and EVD GAR and xGAR. This certainly doesn’t absolve the goaltenders of all responsibility. Part of being a good goalie at the highest level is being capable of making tough saves, saves you have no business making, and even stealing a game here and there. There’s been very little of that this season.

Coming into the season, the Devils were hoping to get above average goaltending from a duo of Jonathan Bernier and MacKenzie Blackwood, and for the second year in-a-row, that plan has failed. Health has been a big factor. Bernier has apparently been dealing with a hip injury since the start of the season, one that caused him to miss time early in the season, landed him on the IR this past Friday, and has the Devils organization “very concerned” about his long-term health. So that’s fantastic news. The other half of the Devil’s projected starting tandem, MacKenzie Blackwood, missed the first 8 games of the season with a heel injury that required offseason surgery. But the bottom line is neither Bernier nor Blackwood has given the team the help between the pipes they needed to ameliorate the Devils brutal play in recent weeks.

Blackwood entered the year as the presumed 1A goalie. And after last night’s 6-1 loss, he has a sparkling .904 save percentage in 14 starts, good for 48th place, just ahead of former Flyer’s legend Brian Elliot. His GSAA is even worse, ranking him 73rd among all goaltenders at -3.82. Jonathan Bernier was brought in this summer to reduce Blackwood’s workload, provide some healthy competition, and act as insurance in the event of an injury. Unfortunately, it is hard to do those things when you’re the one getting injured. When he has been available, Bernier has not been any better than Blackwood. He ranks 55th in the league with a .902 save percentage, and 39th in the league with 0.15 GSAA. So whether it’s poor health, poor performance, bad defense, or more likely, a combination of these things, the Devils need more from their keepers.

The Future

For a while now, MacKenzie Blackwood has seemed like the heir apparent in net for the Devils. He had two very solid seasons to start his career, with a .918 and .915 SV% in 2018-19 and 19-20. When the rest of the team was struggling, it seemed that at least there was a potential solution in net. Last year could be excused due to COVID and COVID protocols throwing everything off. But if Blackwood wants to keep his designation as starting goalie for the Devils he has to be more consistent. He has looked brilliant at times during his career, including in the past two seasons, and has had games that make him seem like a future superstar. At other times, he can’t stop anything and you end up with games like last night (illness aside). The Devils do seem to have help coming. Nico Daws and Akira Schmid have both been excellent in Utica so far this season, however based on very small samples, neither appears ready for full-time NHL action, particularly for a team as porous defensively as the Devils. More help may also be on the way with Jakub Malek putting up good results in the Czech league. But if the Devils have any thoughts about turning things around in the immediate future, they might want to consider making a move to shore things up in goal instead of relying on an inconsistent Blackwood and a few rookies.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about the Devils goaltending this season? Is Blackwood still the future in net or will one of the younger goalies pass him on the depth chart? How worried are you about Bernier’s future with the team? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!