Goaltending is a crucial part of a team’s success in the NHL. Solid netminding can cover up a lot of team’s flaws, while poor performances can submarine a team that deserves to be winning some games. For the New Jersey Devils, a team off to a 2-5-3 start, it’s been the latter. And while they’ve struggled as a team, their goaltending has not helped matters.
After last night’s performance, where Cory Schneider allowed seven goals on 23 shots, the Devils team save percentage (SV%) of .856 ranks last in the NHL. He has a .847 SV% in five starts, while Mackenzie Blackwood has a .871 SV% across six games played. It’s evident that the team has a goaltending problem, and what’s already been a bad start to 2019-20 will only get worse if it doesn’t improve.
Devils’ Goaltending at the Bottom Again
Schneider’s start to 2019-20 is eerily similar to that of last season when he had a .851 SV% across his first nine games played. However, he was returning from offseason hip surgery at the start of last season, and there’s no doubt it affected his play. That wasn’t the case heading into the start of 2019-20, so his numbers are quite concerning.
Of goalies to play at least 100 minutes this season, Schneider’s five-on-five SV% of .864 ranks second to last in the NHL, with Laurent Brossoit being the only goalie who’s worse. His goals saved above average (GSAA) is minus-6.17, ranked fourth-worst in the league, and he’s allowed 16 goals while only having an expected goals (xG) against of 8.86.
If we expand Schneider’s results to include all strengths, it’s not much better. His .847 SV% is last in the league among goalies with 100 minutes logged, and his GSAA of minus-8.70 is third-worst. He has an xG against of 12.08 and has allowed 22 goals. So any way you look at it, his numbers are not great.
As bad as it’s been for Schneider, Blackwood hasn’t fared much better. His five-on-five SV% of .875 is eighth-worst, while his GSAA of minus-3.75 is 11th-worst among goalies with 100 minutes played. He has an xG against of 6.86 and has allowed 12 goals, and like Schneider, his results aren’t much better at all strengths. His .871 SV% is sixth-worst in the league, while his GSAA of minus-5.16 is eight-worst. He has an xG against of 10.87 and has allowed 18 goals.
Those numbers, from both goalies, are nowhere near good enough to be competitive in the NHL. Schneider has been on the downside of his career for a while, but he had a strong close to 2018-19 and finished the preseason with an SV% above .950. Blackwood had a .918 SV% in 2018-19 and had a .912 SV% during the preseason. The Devils need them to start heading in that direction, or things will get out of hand.
Shero Must Look at External Options
The truth is there isn’t an easy fix for the Devils’ goaltending woes. Schneider is under contract through 2021-22, at a cap hit of $6 million, and he has a no-trade clause, so he’s not going anywhere. And with the way he’s playing, it’s highly unlikely a team would be looking to acquire him unless the Devils offered a sweetener, which they’re not in a position to do.
The hope for Schneider regaining his form isn’t a great prospect, either. He’s been a below league average goaltender for the better part of the last four seasons, and players usually don’t get better once they’re in their 30s. If there is a silver lining, Schneider’s .847 SV% is due for some positive regression, so he should rebound a bit. But it may still not be what the Devils need of him.
If there’s a goalie to be a bit more optimistic about, it’s Blackwood. Before a bout with the flu, he had stopped 53 of 55 shots in two games to help the Devils get their only two wins of the season. He’s only 22 years old, and while he’s still unproven, he has plenty of upside and has shown it in the past. So it makes sense for head coach John Hynes to give Blackwood an extended run to see if he can right the team’s goaltending ship.
It’s also at the point where general manager Ray Shero has to start thinking about looking at outside options to help the team’s situation in net. In a recent article in the New York Post, NHL columnist Larry Brooks speculated if it might make sense for the Devils to look at acquiring Antti Raanta from the Arizona Coyotes.
Raanta, 30 years old, hasn’t played much to start this season, with Darcy Kuemper seizing the Coyotes’ starting job. Raanta has quite the injury history and has only played in 63 games over the last two-plus seasons, but his numbers are impressive. He has a .924 SV% with the Coyotes and 25.47 GSAA, the latter of which is ninth-best in the NHL since 2017-18. His contract runs through next season and has a reasonable cap hit of $4.25 million. It’s much easier said than done to acquire a goalie in the middle of the season, but Raanta would be worth considering if made available.
Devils Need Better From What They Have
Realistically, the likelihood of the Devils’ acquiring another goaltender is pretty slim, and that means they need to get better results from their internal options. Schneider is getting paid $6 million a year for a reason, and at some point, he needs to make a save when the team needs it. This is especially true in a game like last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where the Devils allowed an xG against of 1.82 but gave up seven goals because Schneider couldn’t make a timely save.
Blackwood gets a bit more leeway, given he’s only 22 years old and still developing. But he’s in the NHL for a reason, and having a sub .900 SV% isn’t acceptable, so he needs to step up, too. If neither netminder raises their game, it’ll be another long season for the Devils. And one that could end up with them looking at another lottery pick in the 2020 Entry Draft.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017