The New Jersey Devils start to their 2023-24 season has been fairly successful. With a 7-4-1 record so far, the team currently sits 3rd in the Metropolitan Division with 15 points. While it’s a good enough start, the Devils have missed some opportunities to amass more points, such as their disappointing performance against the same opponent they'll see tomorrow, the Washington Capitals. So what's been the problem? Not enough offense? Disappointing defense?
If we want to get technical, the defense has been an issue at times, but it's not the main issue. We've discussed the goaltending concerns a bit, but now 12 games in, it seems like a genuine problem rather than a concern. Vitek Vanecek has posted six wins in nine appearances, which is good, until you see his .893 save percentage. Akira Schmid has sadly performed even more poorly with only one win in four contests and a. 887 SV %. Out of 71 goalies to make at least one appearance this season, the Devils net minders rank 47th and 53rd respectively in save percentage. If you adjust for a minimum of four games played, they move to 38th and 43rd out of 53, which honestly is worse.
To quickly re-address the defending, yes there are absolutely times when the defense has been porous. They've also made some frustrating plays leaving the goalie on their own. When these plays happen, you want your goalie to bail you out. Vanecek and Schmid, however, have crumbled for the most part when the team needs a big save. Yes, as mentioned before, there have been some great saves, however there's also been just as many bad goals that are a result of bad goaltending.
There's no consistency right now. There's no confidence from (or in) either goalie right now. There's no prospect waiting in the wings to stabilize the mess either. So what can the Devils do?
Particularly until Nico Hischier and/or Jack Hughes return, the Devils need to tighten up. The forwards and defense need to be more committed to keeping pucks out of their end of the ice. The focus needs to be on helping to bring stability target than the usual explosiveness. Both goalies as I said don't seem confident right now. Supporting and helping them to rebuild their mindset could be the key to better results against stronger (and weaker) competition.
There are two other options, with neither being all that realistic. Trading for a goalie who could put the team over the top would be one such move, but who's realistically available that represents an upgrade? And please don't say Connor Hellebuyck; not only has that ship sailed, but he's not looking so great right now either. The other option would be to hope Nico Daws comes back, lights it up in Utica and gets called up, but with him still out recovering from injury that might be even less likely.
So we circle back to rebuilding the goalies. Both guys had strong stretches last season and it's not as though they forgot how to play their position overnight. If we can get them back to at least league average playing and save percentage, the team will be able to survive until our centers are back and we can just outscore teams to win again. In seriousness though, this season might be the proof that the Devils do still have at least one more upgrade to make before they're ready to win it all again.
What are your thoughts on the goaltending so far; do you agree the Devils would be even higher in the standings with someone making more routine saves? How worried are you about the performances of Schmid and Vanecek to this point? Do you think one or both of them rebound? Do you think it is more of a systemic/defense issue? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!