The New Jersey Devils’ goaltending situation was dire a couple of months ago. Cory Schneider was mired in a year-long slump, while Keith Kinkaid couldn’t stop a puck. That led to the Devils sinking to the bottom of the NHL standings in short order.
Not much has changed on Kinkaid’s end, but there have been positive developments with Schneider. He’s carried the Devils to three straight wins in his last three appearances and is playing his best hockey since the 2017-18 playoffs. His return to form has suddenly given the Devils a reason to be hopeful as the season winds down.
Schneider Playing at a High Level
If you’ve been following the Devils, Schneider’s struggles are not surprising. He went a full calendar year without a win, getting his first one a week ago against the Minnesota Wild. It wasn’t a matter of bad luck either. Schneider had a save percentage (SV%) well below .900 during his winless streak, so it’s not like he was playing well.
He has struggled with injuries over the last year too. He was put on IR late last season, followed by major surgery to deal with a hip issue that had bothered him since 2016-17, which kept him out for five months. His most recent stint on IR was due to an abdominal strain, which kept him out for almost two months.
Since returning from his abdominal strain, Schneider seems confident. In six appearances (five starts), he has a .937 SV%, with his first shutout since November 2017 coming against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. He also has a 5-on-5 SV% of .943 percent since returning, and a goals saved above average of 3.54. His movement has improved, his positioning is sound and his rebound control is in check.
“Maybe a goal here or there in some of the games, but overall, I feel much more like myself,” Schneider told Chris Ryan of NJ Advance Media. “I think I’ve been back to the way I know I can play. It’s a smaller sample, but for me, I really feel it’s sustainable. You’re going to have bumps in the road or nights where it doesn’t go so well, but as long as they’re outweighed by the good performances and the ones where we’re getting wins and points and giving my team a chance, I think that’s really important too.”
It’s About More Than This Season for Schneider
The Devils still have a lot invested in Schneider. He’s signed for another three seasons with a cap hit of $6 million, and he’s 33 years old, so it’ll be difficult to trade him. Even if the Devils wanted to move him, they’d have to find a goalie to replace him and there aren’t many desirable options available.
Kinkaid is having a miserable season. He has a .891 SV% in 41 games and has given up four goals or more 18 times this season. He’s also 29 years old and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. His struggles won’t make him easy to trade, but even if he remains with the team past the Feb. 25 deadline, it’s almost certain he won’t be in a Devils uniform next season.
Mackenzie Blackwood has looked great in limited NHL action and is the best option the Devils have, but he has a .908 SV% in the AHL this season. Granted, the Binghamton Devils are not very good, giving up a ton of shots on a consistent basis. We’ve seen what he’s capable of, and his potential is sky high but we need a larger NHL sample size to know if he’s legit or not.
The Devils could also dip into free agency to help bolster the position. Sergei Bobrovsky heads the FA class, but he’ll cost a fortune. The organization won’t put that much money into the position, especially with the other holes they have to fill. Jimmy Howard could be a nice option, but he’s 34 years old, so it’d have to be a short-term deal.
If the Devils don’t have to spend money on goaltending, I think that’d be their preferred option, which brings us back to Schneider. They need him to continue his strong play to end the season, even if it hurts their draft position. Between Schneider’s return to form and Blackwood’s potential, the Devils’ goaltending situation is starting to look clearer. And that’s the certainty they need heading into a crucial offseason that will see significant changes to their roster.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017