Goaltending is Killing the Devils Season

Authors Twitter: @matt_mccrohan

In a season that has gone south early on, the one glaring stat after each game is just how many goals the New Jersey Devils are giving up. I understand there are a lot of variables that go into giving up a goal, including defense, fortunate bounces, power plays against, etc. The fact of the matter is every team in the NHL faces these same adversities each and every night. Yes, some more than others, but it ultimately comes down to the man between the pipes to keep the puck out of the net. Both Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider have struggled mightily this season, and it has been the undoing of this team so far. It’s time to dive into this a bit deeper and figure out just what has been going wrong for each of these goalies through 29 games.

Keith Kinkaid

Coming off of a strong performance last season filling in for the injured Schneider, Devils fans were excited to see the progression of Kinkaid and if he was capable of taking that next step forward as a full-time starter. Kinkaid got off to a strong start, going 4-0-0, which included two shutouts and only giving up four goals over that span. Granted these were all very favorable situations, whether it be catching a team on the second half of a back-to-back or facing off against backup goaltenders, but the team took advantage of it nonetheless.

Since that start, however, things have not been as smooth for Kinkaid. Through 24 games (23 of which he started) he has posted a .903 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.03 goals against average. The current league average SV% .907% and a 2.89 GAA. Two stats that can be taken by comparing a goalie’s stats to the league average are quality starts (starts with a save% above league average) and really bad starts (starts with a save% below 85%). So far Kinkaid has 10 quality starts (19 last season) and 4 really bad starts (4 last season). Some of the biggest issues for Kinkaid stem from an overconfidence at times in his glove hand, as well as his rebound control (shown below).

The most obvious place to start is a breakdown of even strength, power play and penalty kill stats. Kinkaid has faced 606 shots while play is 5-on-5 and allowed 56 goals, which is good enough for a .908 SV%. When on the power play, Kinkaid has faced 22 shots and only given up 1 goal, which gives him a .955 SV%. On the penalty kill, he has faced 95 shots and given up 13 goals, good enough for a .863 SV%. For comparison purposes, here are Keith’s numbers from last season. Even strength: 1024 shots, 88 goals against, .914 SV%. On power play: 33 shots, 1 goal against, .970 SV%. On penalty kill: 156 shots, 17 goals against, .891 SV%. His numbers are down a bit from last season, but it is also a smaller sample size.

Cory Schneider

It has been tough sledding for Schneider the last past couple of seasons. Nagging injuries and just the inability to make timely saves have the former top goaltender searching desperately for a win. With a much smaller sample size to work with, we might as well just get right into the numbers.

Through 8 games (6 of which he started) Schneider has posted an abysmal .862 SV% and a 4.29 GAA. He has 1 quality start so far (19 last season) and 2 really bad starts (7 last season). These numbers are obviously very far below league average and explain why Schneider is still seeking his first win of the season. He is 0-15-3 in his last 18 starts (not including his playoff victory), not what you would expect from a goalie making 6 million dollars a season. Whether it be own goals, grade-A chances or just shots finding the net, right now it doesn’t seem like Schneider can find that victory he needs.

 

Now it’s time to dive a little deeper and look at some of the broken down statistics for Cory. Schneider has faced 172 shots and allowed 21 goals, which leads to an .878 SV% at five-on-five. While on the power play, he has faced four shots and given up one goal, equaling a .750 SV%. Finally, while on the penalty kill, he has faced 15 shots and let in four goals, good enough for a .733 SV%.

Just like for Kinkaid, let’s look at Schneider’s numbers from last season. Even strength: 995 shots, 84 goals against, .914 SV%. On power play: 36 shots, two goals against, .944 SV%. On penalty kill: 197 shots, 28 goals, .858 SV%. Outside of seeking help from a sports psychologist, he can at least check these individual stats from last season as a bit of a confidence boost in his abilities in the crease.

What does it all mean?

There are many things that go into winning hockey games: goal scoring, a consistent forecheck and backcheck, defensive zone coverage, strong special teams, clean zone exits and entries, and timely saves from your goalie. Each of these aspects have a direct effect on one another, and in order to be a consistent team you need to check off these boxes night in and night out.

However, the one box that needs to always be checked is consistent goaltending. And right now, the Devils has not received enough of that. As a team, knowing you have to score at least four goals in order to win a game is a daunting task, especially when you find yourself behind trailing early and often. Including victories, the Devils have given up three or more goals in 19 of 29 games, not exactly a recipe for success.

When you can break it down and take a deeper look at things, it’s easier to see where both goalies are struggling. Schneider has poor stats across the board, but both goaltenders biggest weakness comes on the penalty kill. Being down a player certainly doesn’t make life easy on any goalie, as there are sure to be higher quality chances. But as the old saying goes “your goalie has to be your best penalty killer.”

For a team that takes a large number of penalties, the goalie actually ends up being their worst penalty killer on most occasions. This all ties into receiving timely saves. You can’t expect your goalie to save every breakaway, one-timer, or clean shot from the slot. But you are going to need them to rise to the challenge on numerous occasions if you want to have any hope of winning in the NHL. It also becomes a bit more comforting as a defender to know that not every single mistake will end up in the back of the net, but right now that is exactly the opposite. One missed chance to clear a puck, one poorly timed pinch, one breakdown, and the other team is seemingly always burying those opportunities.

The advanced stats are able to show us a wider image of each goaltender. Kinkaid has always been a steady back up, and he still is very capable of that role. But the added workload that comes with being the true starting goalie has put him on a bit of a slide and is starting to have things point more towards the fact he is a quality backup more than he is an everyday starter.

For Schneider it has been very rough, and it seems like he may never be able to get out of this rut. He’s going to need to see more ice time to truly be assessed and see if it’s a bad slump or if the offseason surgery has ended what he used to be. One of these two goalies is going to have to step up and start playing better, because even after all the advanced stats and numbers that may paint a somewhat nicer picture of the Devils netminders, neither has earned the right to own the crease. If the Devils want to be taken seriously again, it will have to begin between the pipes.

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