Last night did not go the way that the New Jersey Devils or their fans would’ve liked for it to go. Suffering their fourth 5-1 loss of the playoffs, the Devils looked flat, listless and tired compared to a rested Hurricanes team. With three goals going on in the first eleven Carolina shots, the Devils found themselves in an early hole. Whether it was due to the team’s overall play, the .727 save percentage, or a bit of both, the Devils made the decision to turn from Akira Schmid back to Vitek Vanecek.
Yet even with Schmid being pulled for the second time in his past three appearances, I still think the Devils make the decision to go back to him for Game 2. Vitek played somewhat well in relief, stopping 10 of the 11 shots that came his way, but I say somewhat due to a few factors. Firstly, after he entered the game, the Devils finally woke up/got the message from Coach Lindy Ruff; the play picked up and Carolina didn’t dominate the second and third periods as they did in the first. While Vanecek posted a .909 in relief, there were some moments where he looked downright sloppy, both in terms of positioning and rebound control.
Schmid is not perfect, nor is he a polished product at just 22 years of age and with not even a full NHL season under his belt. His playoff poise, however, is what makes me think the Devils turn back to him. The team waited for back to back poor performances from Vanecek before turning to Schmid for Game 3, and I’d like to think that Akira gets the same courtesy before the Devils give Vitek a chance to win back the crease. Additionally, while Vanecek may have had the better stats last night, I don’t think he necessarily had the better game.
As I mentioned earlier, the Devils had started to play better overall by the time Vitek entered the game. Additionally, looking at the above goal against again, this is a pretty stoppable shot. Schmid was beaten by shots where he was screened (and badly at that), facing an odd man rush, and a tipped shot from an open player due to an unfortunate break with Jonas Siegenthaler losing his helmet. The shot Vanecek let in was more stoppable than any of the ones that went in for Schmid, and again, some of that falls on the sluggish play of the team in front of him at that point.
Maybe there are some that disagree and think that one, or more of the goals against Schmid were stoppable or more egregious than the one Vanecek let in. Whether that’s your mindset or not, I think Schmid deserves at least one more shot at Carolina, especially when you consider a couple of other factors. First is that without him, we’re probably out in the first round, so there should be enough good will built up to let him have the next start. Secondly, and probably more importantly to the argument, Schmid’s playoff save percentage of .935 is still vastly superior to Vanecek’s .841. If a second 0-2 hole happens, I could see the Devils make a change from there; until the time when that hypothetical becomes a reality (if it ever does), Schmid should still be the team’s starter.
What are your thoughts on the play of Akira Schmid; do you think he starts Game 2 or do the Devils revert to Vitek Vanecek? Is the higher save percentage convincing for you, or do you think it’s more a reflection of how the team has played in front of each goalie? Does Vanecek’s goal against from Game 1 inspire less confidence in you like it does for me? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!