Goaltending Controversy Arising Deeper in the Devils Organization

There is another goaltending controversy involving the New Jersey Devils but this time it is happening with the Albany Devils, their top developmental team, of the American Hockey League.  Despite being cast as the next goaltender to make the leap to the NHL and having one of the strongest seasons among all net minders in the AHL, Keith Kinkaid has all of a sudden found himself in an unfamiliar spot: on the Albany Devils bench.  Back-up goaltender Scott Wedgewood has stolen the show in the Albany crease and has started six of the last eight games for the A-Devils.

Keith Kinkaid’s First Rough Stretch of the 2013-14 Season

Kinkaid entered March with a record of 20-8-2 with a .917 save%.  His final February contest (February 22) was an important battle against the Norfolk Admirals, one of the teams the A-Devils were in a logjam with in the fight for a playoff spot.  Entering the game each squad had 62 points and were tied for 7th in the Eastern Conference.  Kinkaid stood tall and stopped 25 of 26 shots as the Devils won 4-1.  He was also named the game’s first star.  It was Kinkaid’s third consecutive win and the fifth consecutive game in which he guaranteed at least one point for Albany in the standings.

Instead of Kinkaid starting his third game in three nights, Wedgewood started the following afternoon’s game as the Devils hosted the Utica Comets.  Wedgewood backstopped the Devils to a 2-1 victory as he turned aside 15 of 16 shots.  It was Wedgewood’s second win in three contests but just his third in a dozen appearances dating back to January 10.

The next six games were much of the same in the Albany crease as Kinkaid started five of the six.  The only difference is Kinkaid lost four (two in the shootout) of his five starts.  In his final start during that stretch of games Kinkaid yielded six goals to the Springfield Falcons on March 14 in a 6-4 Albany loss.  This was the most goals allowed in a game by Kinkaid this season and his worst performance dating back to February 13 of last season when he allowed six goals in two periods to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Syracuse Crunch.  Kinkaid’s one victory in five games (as it stands now it is seven games with one victory) was also his worst five-game stretch during the 2013-14 season.

The Albany Edition of the Goaltending Controversy
Keith Kinkaid’s struggles have paved the way for another goaltending controversy in the Devils organization (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports).

Scott Wedgewood Delivers the Doughnuts; Wins Four Straight

With the Devils losing ground in the playoff race, the tide began to turn on March 15.  The A-Devils returned to the Times Union Center for the first time since Wedgewood’s 2-1 victory over Utica and Wedgewood was chosen to start once again.  Harri Pesonen and Rod Pelley scored for Albany but one goal was all they would need as Wedgewood picked up his second professional hockey shutout (January 10, 3-0 win at. Springfield, 21 saves) as he stopped all 23 shots he faced, including 16 in the final period, in the 2-0 blanking of the Hartford Wolf Pack.  Riding the hot hand head coach Rick Kowalsky started Wedgewood in the next day’s game against the Crunch.  The Devils went on to defeat Syracuse 3-0 as Wedgewood made 13 saves and earned yet another shutout.

Scott Wedgewood led the Albany Devils to a 2-0 victory over the Wolf Pack on March 15, 2014:

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The goaltending controversy that loomed over the parent club most of the season trickled up to the capital city of New York when the starting goaltender was announced for the final contest of their three-game home stand.  Looking to sweep the three games in Albany, Kowalsky elected to start Wedgewood in another important battle for a playoff spot.  Facing the East Division-leading Binghamton Senators, Wedgewood’s shutout streak was finally snapped at the 15:54 mark of the second period when Matt Puempel scored to give the Senators a 1-0 lead.  Wedgewood’s shutout streak ended at 164:22.  That was all that Wedgewood would surrender, however, and a pair of third period goals, one by Mike Sislo and the other by Reid Boucher, gave Albany a much-needed 2-1 victory.  In total, Wedgewood stopped 18 of 19 shots in the evening tilt.

Scott Wedgewood mans the crease for the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center during an exhibition contest against the New York Islanders on September 19, 2013.

Wedgewood started his fourth consecutive game three nights later as the Devils jumped out to an early 4-0 lead before eventually prevailing over the Crunch on the road 6-2.  Wedgewood turned aside 22 of 24 shots and won his fourth straight start, a new career high.  He has previously won three games in a row twice, both times earlier in the 2013-14 season.  His victory was also Albany’s fourth in a row, their longest winning streak since a historic six-game winning streak in early December.

The Devils streak was snapped the following day when Kinkaid got his first start in five games.  He stopped 19 of 22 shots but Chuck Kobasew’s second of the game 1:22 into overtime gave the host Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the 3-2 win.

Goaltending Controversy: The Albany Edition

Wedgewood started two of the last three games for the A-Devils as their March schedule came to a close.  Wedgewood started the Friday contest against the Hershey Bears but a third period collapse sent Albany to their second straight loss.  The Devils held a 1-0 lead going into the final frame but fell 4-1 to the Bears, who are 9th in the Eastern Conference and end the weekend just a point shy of the final playoff spot currently held by the Admirals.

Kinkaid started on home ice against the Worcester Sharks on Saturday but lost for the sixth time in seven starts as the Sharks prevailed in the shootout 4-3.  In their last game of the month, however, the shootout was kind to the Devils as they defeated the Senators for the second time in less than two weeks.  Wedgewood picked up his seventh win in his last ten starts and fifth win in his last six.  He stopped all five shootout attempts by the Senators and Pelley picked up the lone Albany shootout goal in the fifth round as the Devils won 3-2. During actual playing time, Wedgewood made 23 saves on 25 shots.

Highlights from the Albany Devils 3-2 victory over Binghamton including Wedgewood’s clutch right pad save in the shootout:

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Wedgewood has started the bulk of the games over the last month and has been in net for the contests that are four-point affairs in regards to playoff positioning.  He was also named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending on March 16, the week of his back-to-back shutouts.  He has overtaken the number one spot on the goaltending depth chart for the Albany Devils as Kinkaid has been engulfed in a month long slump after posting career highs in goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts.  Kinkaid also has 21 victories which is tied for the most he had in a single season (2012-13).  With Kinkaid struggling and Wedgewood emerging as a star during the most important part of the season, Albany is facing a goalie controversy of their own as the Devils look to make the postseason for the first time since 2010.