The preservation of quality goaltending was one of Lou Lamoriello’s parting gifts to the Devils organization. It’s been New Jersey’s cornerstone of success for decades, and will continue to be in the years to come. While we won’t see Devils hockey in the postseason, goaltending is the team’s one true strong point they’re aiming to build out from. While the Devils haven’t seen the same type of success, the post-Brodeur era has a very assuring line of succession. Like every part of the team however, New Jersey’s goaltending did experience its own ups and downs, and is susceptible to improvement this offseason.
Cory Schneider’s play…The numbers speak for themselves; in 58 starts, Schneider posted a career-high 27-25-6 record, 2.15 GAA, and .924 SV%. His goals against ranks fourth amongst goaltenders (with at least 30 games played), while his SV% is sixth-highest. Schneider is the only goaltender in each category with a top-ten finishing whose team isn’t in the playoffs. It’s certainly a testament to how inaccurately his record reflects the true quality of his play. He faced an average of 27.5 shots a game this season, which is 11th out of the average shots against per game all 20 NHL goalies with at least 50 starts faced. Schneider’s all-star goaltending is essentially why the Devils gave up the 9th-least amount of goals in the NHL. We know that in terms longevity, New Jersey is poised for more years of star-caliber net minding that’ll give the team a chance to win every game.
Replenishing goaltending depth…Up until a few years ago, goaltending was one of the biggest concerns for the Devils. Since Lou Lamoriello acquired Cory Schneider at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the organization underwent a revival that’s slowly refilling the depth quality in New Jersey’s goaltending cupboard. Beyond Schneider, youngsters like backup Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood further showcased their skills at the pro-level. In the AHL, Wedgewood was a serviceable backup. He posted a 12-3-3 record with a 1.66 GAA and .928 SV%. First-year goaltender Ken Appleby had a formidable debut in the organization, primarily with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL. He went 17-9-2 in 29 starts, posting a 2.24 GAA and .924 SV%, and could very well compete for a spot in Albany next season. 2015 second round draft pick Mackenzie Blackwood completed his third season with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. He went 28-13-0 in 43 starts, posting career-high numbers of a 2.72 GAA (6th-best) and .921 SV% (tied for first).
Schneider’s injury…When Schneider went down, it was the final nail in the coffin after Mike Cammalleri’s season-ending injury and trading Lee Stempniak. The Devils went 5-5-2 in the 12 games during Schneider’s absence from the lineup, and lost two of his last three starts upon returning. This occurred in the wake of a tough February month where the Devils went 5-6-2, and began their descent from playoff contention. When Schneider went down, the subsequent month exploited how vulnerable the Devils are without the backing of their franchise goaltender.
Keith Kinkaid’s inconsistent play…We all know Keith Kinkaid has had an uphill battle in his first two NHL seasons. Hopes are still high that something will come of the Farmingville, New York native. In 23 starts this season, Kinkaid went just 9-9-1. He posted less-than desirable numbers over that stretch with a 2.81 GAA and .904 SV%. Kinkaid faced an average of 26.3 shots a game, which was less than Schneider’s nightly average of 27.5. In 12 of Kinkaid’s starts, he surrendered at least three or more goals and went 3-6-1 (pulled/relieved in two games). It’s likely Kinkaid’s numbers would be more appealing if he played in front of a better team, but the fact he couldn’t hold the fort down during Schneider’s absence still puts his long term appeal to the organization into question.
Hopes and needs
Wedgewood’s first impression…Goaltending hasn’t been both new and exciting in New Jersey for years until just recently. While the jury’s still out on Keith Kinkaid, Devils fans caught a brief glimpse of goaltending prospect Scott Wedgewood’s NHL capabilities, to which he did not disappoint. In four games, Wedgewood posted a 2-1-1 record, 1.24 GAA, and .957 SV%. Granted it was only a sample stretch of four games, Wedgewood achieved these numbers while facing an average of 29 shots a game, which is higher than the nightly averages of Schneider and Kinkaid. Let’s also keep in mind this was when the Devil’s roster was at perhaps at its least-appealing point of the season.
Throw another goalie in the mix…The Devils have no reason for shortcuts in developing their goaltending crop. Ideally, the consensus of Devils fans would probably want (and expect) one of Kinkaid or Wedgewood to be Schneider’s backup next season. Even if Yann Danis returns, one of Wedgewood, Kinkaid, or even Ken Appleby could still compete for the No. 1 and 2 slots in Albany. This could very well pan out at training camp at first glance, however that certainly won’t be the case. Pre-assigning these roles would enable players like Kinkaid, Wedgewood, and Appleby to take the preseason for granted, and essentially defeat the purpose of training camp. Whether Danis is or isn’t in the mix, it’d be wise of Shero to sign another veteran goalie. It’ll put Kinkaid (especially after how he played this season) on his toes, while letting up-and-comers like Wedgewood and Appleby know they won’t be handed opportunities in this organization. What the Devils need is a goaltending tandem that’s equivalent to the pairing Ray Shero had in his final season as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins (MAF and Tomas Vokoun). Especially if New Jersey continues to experience offensive shortcomings next season, having a consistent and reliable backup that can play Schneider’s part to the fullest extent when he isn’t starting should be a priority that won’t be found if Shero doesn’t broaden his options.