After dealing with injuries and bad performances at the goaltending position throughout this year, the New Jersey Devils have received some reliable, steady play in goal recently. Nico Daws has taken advantage of the opportunity presented to him after ailments and inconsistencies at goaltender have ravaged the Devils. Going through six goaltenders is one reason the team finds itself with a 22-32-5 record, and unlikely to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Lately, there have been bright spots for the Devils as they have played more competitively on a consistent basis regardless of the end result in games. The offense has improved after going through multiple stretches of scoring woes previously this season. The Devils have gone 5-4-0 since the nine-day break ended in mid-February. The Devils have received good goaltending from Daws, who has started eight of the last nine games. Let’s take a look at why he should be named the Devils’ number one goaltender.
Daws Has Kept the Devils in Games
What has been impressive about Daws’ play since Feb. 24 is his ability to make key saves in order to keep the Devils in games. His play was noticeable against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 24. He stymied the Pens by stopping 37 of 38 shots as the Devils upset Pittsburgh, 6-1. The Devils’ offense struck early in the game as they tallied three goals during the first period, which helped the young goaltender.
Daws has played well enough during the last two weeks. He has allowed more than three goals only once in his last eight starts. In 12 games played, he has a .916 save percentage (SV%), a 2.50 goals-against average (GAA), and a 6-4-0 record.
General manager Tom Fitzgerald commented that he may acquire another goaltender by the trading deadline on March 21, “Yeah, that’s fair. That’s my job, my duty, to make sure we’re covered with goaltending. We’ve gone through six goalies this year. And No. 6 right now looks like he’s going to be a good one in Nico Daws. …I’ve really enjoyed watching Nico Daws play,” (from ‘LeBrun: Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald discusses P.K. Subban, Damon Severson and his team’s future,’ The Athletic, 3/7/22).
Daws Providing Devils With Stability in Net
Prior to Daws’ recent numbers of consecutive starts in goal, the goaltenders who played for the Devils this season include Mackenzie Blackwood, Jonathan Bernier, Scott Wedgewood, Jon Gillies, and Akira Schmid. Blackwood is on injured reserve (IR) and it is unknown if he will return this season. Bernier is on season-ending IR after undergoing hip surgery a few months ago.
Wedgewood is now with the Arizona Coyotes and Schmid is with the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL). Gillies played on Feb. 25 against the Chicago Blackhawks and gave up six goals on 35 shots in an 8-5 loss. He is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season and probably will not be re-signed in the offseason.
Blackwood and Bernier are two of the six goalies that are most likely to remain with the Devils beyond this season. Bernier’s role with the Devils is that of a backup goaltender. If he is brought back, he will be a reserve. The Devils may have Blackwood and Daws compete for the starting goaltender spot in training camp next season with the winner being the starter and the other as the backup.
However, Daws’ emergence in a starting role may make Blackwood a trade candidate for teams in need of goaltending. It remains to be seen what Blackwood’s further potential is as a number one goaltender given that he has been inconsistent as the Devils’ starting netminder. He has dealt with his share of injuries as well during his young career.
After arguably his best start on March 12 against the Anaheim Ducks, Devils head coach Lindy Ruff commented about Daws getting the majority of starts in goal for New Jersey, “We’ve been given that opportunity to just keep playing him through games, and if there was a game he didn’t like, I guess he knows he’s going to play. I think that’s a good feeling for a goaltender. I think a goaltender always worries if he has a bad game and if he is going to go back in. We’ve allowed him to kind of take the ball and run with it,” (from ‘Nico Daws’ big night leads Devils to shootout win over Ducks,’ New York Post, 3/12/2022).
Daws’ recent stretch of starts has given fans a glimpse of the potential the Devils have with consistency in goal to go along with their offense. While the sample size of his number of starts is small, he has done well so far. He should be given consideration to play for the remainder of the year in order for the Devils to see if he indeed is the real deal in terms of being a starting goalie. He has proven he is capable of being a number one netminder at this point.