As average of a season this has turned out to be for the New Jersey Devils, one aspect of their lineup, which has been far better than average has been their goaltending.
This is the third part of my five-part series reviewing the Devils season. You can find my article on New Jersey’s forwards here, and their defense here. Coaching, and future are coming soon so let’s get started.
Schneider Proves Himself
The biggest question coming into the season was how would Cory Schneider do as the team’s number one goaltender with Martin Brodeur being let go in the off-season. Fair to say that he not just had a good season, but almost singlehandedly kept New Jersey in the playoff hunt. Without Schneider, I have no doubt that New Jersey would be right down there with Buffalo, Arizona, and Edmonton fighting for the first overall selection in the draft.
Schneider’s stats for the season were a solid .925 Sv%, 2.26 Goals-Against-Average, and five shutouts. What brings everything down a bit is his record. In 69 starts, Schneider had a 26-31-9 record, which is the first time in his career where Schneider had a below .500 win percentage.
— Pete Jensen (@NHLJensen) April 24, 2015
Lets be frank here; that record isn’t on Schneider, it’s on the team in front of him, more specifically the offense, which finished 28th overall in goals-per-game. The 28th overall finish is something I keep highlighting because in hockey, if you don’t score, you don’t win, it’s simple as that. While Schneider did his best, he found himself in the same situation as last year where the team didn’t score for him, and it turned into a scenario where if he allowed more than one goal, he would get the loss. That’s a ton of pressure to put on a goalie, and it’s not that Schneider can’t handle it, but when it’s the same thing night after night, it must have worn on him as the season went along.
Thankfully for the Devils, Schneider turned into the workhorse they were expecting. This was the first season in Schneider’s career where he started more than 45 games, and to start 69, it couldn’t have worked out better. There was never a period in the season where he looked hurt, but there were a few times where Schneider looked a little fatigued. Were aware of him breaking Marty’s record of consecutive games started to begin a season with 20, and it was around there when it became clear that New Jersey needed a competent backup.
Enter Keith Kinkaid
Keith Kinkaid was signed in July 2013, and has developed with the Albany Devils up until this season. In training camp, Kinkaid battled with veteran Scott Clemmensen for the backup role with the full knowledge that Cory Schneider would be getting most of the starts. At the time head coach Pete DeBoer sent Kinkaid back to Albany because for that same reason of Schneider getting all the playing time.
The demotion didn’t hurt his confidence, as the 25-year-old goaltender bid his time, and when he got the chance, put on a great performance against the Chicago Blackhawks in a losing effort. Kinkaid made 37 of 39 saves that night, and only lost because he had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane coming down on him in the shootout.
It took Kinkaid another loss in the shootout before he got his first victory in a home win against the Tampa Bay Lighting in your guessed it, a shootout.
From then on Kinkaid became the full-time backup, and went on to finish the season with a .915 Sv%, 2.56 GAA, and a 6-5-4 record. Considering it was Kinkaid’s first season, I’ll take those stats any day, especially considering the team in front of him.
Next season will be more of the same for the Devils. If Cory Schneider was on a better team he might have been nominated for the Vezina Trophy, and Kinkaid will look to become one of the premier backups in the league; kind of like what Cam Talbot is for the Rangers. I’m not saying he will be that next season, but Kinkaid has the potential to turn into something like that.
There has been no doubt that Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have become one of the better goaltending tandems in the league. They are entering the primes of their careers, and look set to carry their success into next season.
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Corey Spina is a New Jersey Devils staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @CSpinaTHW.