The New Jersey Devils trip out west didn’t go as they hoped. They gathered three out of a possible six points, which is less than what they needed given their position in the standings. They squandered scoring opportunities and made careless mistakes, which has become a common storyline of their season. With their playoff hopes becoming dimmer by the day, they’ll need to rebound fast to get moving in the right direction.
Devils Miscues Doom Them Again
Glaring miscues have been the story of most Devils road games this season, and their trip to California was no different. This was most apparent in the Devils 6-5 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night. En route to that loss, the Devils scored three own goals (No, that’s not a typo). And to make matters worse, Cory Schneider was in net, and he desperately needed a win.
If there was a positive to take away from that game, it’s that Schneider played his best game in a while. Discounting the three own goals, he stopped 33 of 35 shots and looked more comfortable in net than he had in recent games. The Devils won’t turn around their season without him getting it together. His performance should put him in position to get more starts moving forward.
On the heels of that shootout loss, the Devils had a quick turnaround with a game against the San Jose Sharks the following night. They needed at least a point out of that game, but it was the same old story. They took an early 1-0 lead and got off to a strong start, but things unraveled quickly. Sami Vatanen made a careless turnover on a zone entry late in the first period. That led to a Sharks odd-man rush and a goal the other way.
Odd-man rushes were a problem for the Devils against the Sharks. They gave up way too many to a team that has scoring prowess, and the Sharks took advantage. The end result was the Devils faltering by a score of 5-2. The rest of their December schedule doesn’t get easier, so they’ll have to clean those up to have success.
Devils’ Goaltending Has Become a Problem
It goes beyond their trip to California, but their goaltending has become a noticeable flaw. This specifically applies to the performance of Keith Kinkaid, who has given up four or more goals in six of his last seven starts.
Kinkaid isn’t 100% at fault for the poor starts, but he has to start making saves. Since his 4-0-0 start to the season, he is 6-8-5 with a .894 save percentage (SV%). That includes a .907 5-on-5 SV%, which is the same is Alex Stalock and Darcy Kuemper. Kinkaid also has a quality start percentage of .435% (via Hockey-Reference) for the season. That is not good and is well below the league average of 53%.
If Kinkaid isn’t going to perform up to the standards the Devils need, then they have to give Schneider more starts. He hasn’t been better than Kinkaid, but his start against the Ducks was a step in the right direction, despite what the score said. Devils general manager Ray Shero spoke about the importance of getting Schneider on the right track on Tuesday.
“Cory has worked really hard and he’s physically fine. There are things we can help him with, but at the end of the day if Cory wants the net back he needs to be the best goalie in practice and that will help him become sharper when he gets into the game,” Shero told Mike Morreale of NHL.com. “He’s got to push Keith and continue to be supportive, too, just as he was for Keith during his run last year. He’s been great in that regard. Sometimes it comes down to the player and the player needs to make a difference.”
What Can the Devils Take Away from Road Trip?
If there was one positive takeaway from the Devils trip, it’s that they managed to score goals. They tallied six against the Kings in a 6-3 victory and managed five against a Ducks team that has elite goaltending. They’re also getting strong performances from individuals like Marcus Johansson, who scored a 6-on-5 goal to get the Devils to overtime against the Ducks.
Other than that, it’s hard to come away with many other positives. The same miscues that have plagued the Devils throughout the season were on full display. Those mistakes have to become less frequent because each loss will make it harder for them to move up in the standings. Another month of trudging through crucial mistakes and goaltending, and they’ll be sellers by the time 2019 rolls around.
If the Devils want to avoid that fate, they’ll have to close out games such as the one against the Ducks, a game they should have won. Or pick up a win against a perennial playoff contender like the Sharks. You’ll take a win anytime you get it, even if it’s against the Kings, but that won’t be enough to get them into a playoff spot. If they start winning games against legitimate playoff contenders, then they might be able to change their season’s fortunes.
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Advanced stats from Corsica Hockey except where noted