With the New York Rangers’ loss in the Stanley Cup qualifier round against the Carolina Hurricanes, the future of Henrik Lundqvist remains in doubt. Even though the most beloved goaltender on the wrong side of the Hudson River has one more year left on his contract, speculation says the star netminder might have played his final NHL game. If his days in the NHL are numbered, he can easily have a career in modeling if he so chooses.
For two decades, New Jersey Devils’ fans were able to watch the greatest of all-time in Martin Brodeur. After Lundqvist made his way to Madison Square Garden a goaltending rivalry ensued. The matchups never coincided with the Devils’ Stanley Cup championship runs. This because Lundqvist made his NHL debut in the 2005-2006 season.
The highlight of their matchups was Brodeur and the Devils beating Lundqvist and the Rangers in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, the Devils would lose in the Stanley Cup finals to the Los Angeles Kings.
However, Brodeur has since retired and Lundqvist might be next. The Rangers still have a crowded crease of characters in goal while the Devils are placing all bets on Mackenzie Blackwood being their goaltender of the future. Could a new era of goaltending rivalry be in the works?
The New Jersey Devils
Even with Cory Schneider on the books for a few more years, the Devils have fully given the goaltending reigns to Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood has been exceptional on an otherwise unexceptional team, despite some early season troubles last year.
Blackwood ended the 2019-2020 season, which is technically his rookie season, with the following statistics: 22 wins, 14 regulation losses, and eight overtime losses. His 2.77 goals against average and 0.915 save percentage are not elite numbers, but considering the Devils’ less than spectacular defense they are certainly solid.
If Blackwood is the number one guy, who plays backup? After a brief stint in the AHL, Schneider finished the season backing up the young Blackwood. Schneider used to be elite, but age and injuries have taken its toll on the once top-five goaltender. Still, Schneider is a more than capable backup if he’s still with the team. If not, there is always Giles Senn who saw brief NHL action this year.
The New York Rangers
All eyes are on Igor Shesterkin. His goals against average is slightly better than Blackwood’s at 2.52 and his 0.932 save percentage puts him in elite territory. Shesterkin has a much smaller sample size of games, starting 12 in the regular season, for 10-2-0 record.
Against New Jersey, he has a 1-1 record. That second game, his loss against the Devils, was his first game back since an injury resulting from a car crash sidelined him for a few weeks. Interestingly enough, that game was the worst of his short NHL career where he only had a 0.783 save percentage.
Shesterkin’s the easy heir apparent to Lundqvist. Just like there were Broduer versus Lundqvist comparisons, there are sure to be Blackwood versus Shesterkin comparisons.
Right now Shesterkin has the obvious edge. If the Devils improve the team’s defense in front of Blackwood the matchup will be much closer. Blue line strength is a major offseason priority for the Devils, and it helps that Ty Smith will finally be NHL ready for next season.
The Philadelphia Flyers
All the talk during the regular season was “Shesterkin, Shesterkin, Shesterkin” but now in the playoff, it’s the Carter Hart show. The 22-year-old goaltender has been impressive and lead Philadelphia Flyers’ fans to believe they finally found their star in goal. He has all the makings to be the best Flyers’ goaltender since Ron Hextall.
Considering Philadelphia is perhaps the NHL’s most improved team since last season, let’s look at his statistics for the 2019-2020 season. Hart has a 2.42 goals against average and a 0.914 save percentage. That’s better than Shesterkin and Blackwood in the goals against average department, and roughly even with Blackwood in save percentage. However, save percentage wise Shesterkin has the best of the three.
Hart is using this year’s playoffs to make a name out of himself. Want to hear his playoff numbers? Sit down for this. The 22-year-old has a 1.51 goals against average and a 0.949 save percentage in five games. Those are beautiful numbers. Did I mention he’s only 22-years old?
Speaking of his age, Hart has a slight advantage over Shesterkin and Blackwood. Blackwood is 23 and Shesterkin is the oldest of the group at 24. Point is these three will be facing off against each other for a long time.
Other Metropolitan Division Teams
The Flyers and Rangers are the Devils’ main rivals, so the focus was placed on those two teams. As for the New York Islanders, it seems to be a revolving door of netminders on short one-year deals. The Washington Capitals still have Branden Holtby as their number one, as it’s been for some time. However, that may change this offseason.
The best of the rest is easily the Columbus Blue Jackets. Elvis Merzlikins has been better than expected for the Jackets and Joonas Korpisalo has been good as well. Eyes will be on them since the Devils have struggled agains the Blue Jackets in the past.
What Does Mackenzie Blackwood Need?
Out of the three — Blackwood, Shesterkin, and Hart) — Blackwood is probably the third-best, although he’s not bad by any means.
To get any kind of sustained success the Devils need to improve the defense in front of him. Also, as of this year, Blackwood is the only one of the three without any NHL playoff experience. Even though the Stanley Cup qualifier wasn’t technically the playoffs, it’s still more of the playoffs than Blackwood, unfortunately, has gotten a chance to experience.