Continuing with end-of-season report cards for the New Jersey Devils, one thing the team lacked in this year was goaltending. After the departure of Corey Crawford to retirement before the season even started, the Devils were left with Mackenzie Blackwood to take the whole team on his shoulders alongside Scott Wedgewood and, occasionally, Aaron Dell. Although the entire goaltending situation was shaken up, it does not account for the subpar play in net this season. Here we will take a look at each of New Jersey’s netminders from the 2020-21 season and their ups and downs.
Mackenzie Blackwood: B
Coming into this season, it was expected that Blackwood would probably be splitting time with Crawford 50/50. Despite the circumstances, Blackwood did step up and take control in some ways, but this season was not the best for him.
He was coming off a hot first season as a starter with a .915 save percentage (SV%), 2.77 goals against average (GAA) and 22-14-8 record in a season that was cut short from COVID-19. The net looked promising for the Devils and we saw that same Blackwood in the beginning of the 2020-21 season. Prior to missing almost a month due to coronavirus protocols, he started the year with a shootout loss and two wins. It was another step in the right direction, but after coming back on Feb. 16, Blackwood looked to have lost his touch a bit.
Coming back from COVID-19 was understandably tough, but that did not explain Blackwood’s play in net the rest of the season. He ended with a 14-17-4 record, a 3.04 GAA, and a .902 SV% – not stats a starter would necessarily like to have, but under tough circumstances, not terrible.
Blackwood did put up a 40-save shutout against the Boston Bruins on March 28 and continued to make 40 saves or more in a three-game span until April 2 with 40, 48, and 40 respectively. His biggest flaw this season was his goals against, though, as that number teetered throughout the season.
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Blackwood was very hot and cold. He would have a spurt of some solid games and impressive saves, and then it could completely change the next game or two. Don’t get me wrong in that he saved the Devils in quite a few games and proved he can be the Devils starter in those. He made impressive saves and brought New Jersey to some important wins with swift play, but letting in fewer soft goals would have boosted his stats and the team even more, and could have made the difference. Hopefully, Blackwood can get back to his potential in the fall and bring the Devils the goaltending they strive for.
Scott Wedgewood: C
Wedgewood was unexpectedly pretty impressive in some of his games with New Jersey after being recalled on a whim when the goaltending situation changed, but that was about the most we saw from him. He played in 16 games this season, ending with a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV%. Wedgewood did put up two shutouts, with a 28-save one in his second game played this year against the New York Islanders and then another one four games later against Boston with 40 stops.
He also struggled in the same way Blackwood did with letting in goals that should not have gone in, and it would have helped him get some more wins if that was the case. Wedgewood had a shaky start but did supply the Devils with some stability they needed while Blackwood was out. A lot of Wedgewood’s games later in the season did not go well for him, as he allowed over three goals a game in his last 10 and ended with just three wins and eight losses.
He does not have much experience in the NHL yet and was thrown into the backup position a bit, but we can only be hopeful that he will improve after this. He did what he could and although it did not go as the team might have wanted it to, it is over with now.
Aaron Dell: C
Dell played in seven games this season, five in which he started. He totaled up one win and five losses, ending with a 4.14 GAA and .857 SV% while sharing some of the backup responsibility with Wedgewood and filling in when needed. After being acquired off waivers, he was able to get some playing time with one game in late February, two in early March and four throughout April for the Devils. His one win came on April 8 in which he put up 27 saves and let in three goals in a 6-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres – a much-needed win after New Jersey lost four straight before that.
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Getting more ice time would have given Dell more of a chance to try to improve on this year, but as it was for all teams, this was a different season than most. It would have been beneficial for Dell to play better and provide a breather for Blackwood or Wedgewood when a third goalie was needed since it was a tough season already for the Devils in net, and overall.
Looking Ahead at Devils Goaltending
It was apparent that this year was not the best for the Devils in net and it absolutely needs to be improved on next season if they want to step up and get some more wins. Despite that, it was a weird season in net with the COVID-19 break most of the team had to take, and that was a big component in the performance of the goaltending this year and the low grades they received.