It’s safe to say that the past 11 months have been anything but normal for the entire world during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same can be said for sports, due to the fact that there have been a good amount of unfortunate surprises. The New Jersey Devils have already faced some of those hardships, because during the course of the past month or so, they have had to place three of their players in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol (Jesper Bratt, Sami Vatanen, and Mackenzie Blackwood).
While Aaron Dell was technically not placed on the list, he still wasn’t allowed to join the team right away due to him coming from the Toronto Maple Leafs and having to go through certain procedures before he was granted readmission into the United States. Presently, both Bratt and Dell have been granted the right to rejoin the Devils organization and to start practicing with the team once again. However, just recently, the Devils ran into more problems with the league’s COVID-19 protocols, because they had to place their star goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood, on that list.
What Specifically Happened to Blackwood?
Obviously, teams hold the right to not disclose any information to the public surrounding that specific issue. But, there are certain rules that play into factor determining how and why a player ends up on that list:
- An initial positive test which remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol.
- Mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol.
- Required quarantine as a high-risk close contact in accordance with the Positive Test Protocol.
- Isolation based on a confirmed test result.
- Quarantine for travel or other reasons as outlined in the COVID-19 Protocol.
Obviously, with Blackwood being out indefinitely, it certainly made things more complicated for the Devils. Because of Corey Crawford’s retirement and Dell being unavailable, the Devils still don’t seem to have a go-to back up goaltender. But with decent performances put up by Scott Wedgewood recently, it could be possible that the Devils found another diamond in the rough.
While Wedgewood’s numbers aren’t anything spectacular, given the circumstances that were presented upon him, I believe that he is doing a decent job.
Third-String Goalie to the Rescue
Despite being a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s championship team this past season, Wedgewood’s career has been mostly uneventful to say the least. Prior to the New York Islanders weekend series on Jan. 21, Wedgewood hadn’t played in an NHL game in almost three seasons. The last game he participated in was for the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 13, 2018, in which he was able to secure the win for his team. Other than that, Wedgewood has been mostly a career minor leaguer.
However, he was quickly thrown into the fire when news broke that Blackwood was required to placed onto the COVID-19 protocol list. Wedgewood stated in a pregame interview, “The role I’ve been under here is, prepare to play every night…As a backup, you never know what’s going to come your way.” (from ‘NJ Devils take down Islanders behind shutout performance by Scott Wedgewood’, Sean Farrell, The Gazette, 1/24/2021).
While the score doesn’t reflect it, Wedgewood did a pretty decent job in his first game against the Islanders on Thursday. The Devils ended up losing the game 4-1, however, the lackluster defense should be held accountable for that loss.
The reason for that is because the Devils’ defense allowed two power-play goals, and also an open breakaway shot that ended the first period. So, 75% of the goals allowed should not be placed onto Wedgewood’s shoulders, because it’s not his fault that his teammates went into the penalty kill and played porous defense. When the final horn sounded, Wedgewood had a save percentage (SV%) of .886 (31/35 in save opportunities) in his first game of the season.
In the very next game on Sunday, Wedgewood gave the Devils their first shutout victory of the season by stopping all 28 of the Islanders’ shots. It was a special day for him, because he was able to accomplish that on his mother’s birthday. Despite a disappointing outing from both himself and his penalty-killing defense on Jan. 26 against the Flyers, the Devils still have one of the lowest goals against averages (GAA) in the entire league. They currently rank in the eighth position with an average of 2.50.
In his second tenure with the New Jersey Devils, Wedgewood is proving that he shouldn’t be overlooked amongst the fan base and organization. While he might not be the ideal backup netminder, his numbers and production are solid. Currently, Wedgewood is 1-2-0 with a SV% of .914 (85/93 in save opportunities). In addition to already having a shutout performance, Devils fans should overall be satisfied with his production while Blackwood remains absent.
Trey Matthews is currently the play-by-play announcer for the hockey programs at Adrian College. Interestingly, he is also one of the only full-time black hockey play-by-play announcers in the entire country. He has been featured in USA Today, USCHO, & others for his line of work. In addition to that, he’s also the host of a podcast show called Locked On Devils. He first began writing for his high school’s paper at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy. Aside from hockey, he also covers the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) for Belly Up Sports.