One goalie performance stood head-and-shoulders above the rest on Thursday night, and we’ll take an extended look at it. Also, Andrei Vasilevskiy set an incredible franchise record.
The New Jersey Devils have had plenty of struggles this season, struggles which ultimately lead to their firing head coach John Hynes early in December and general manager Ray Shero in January. One of the big struggles they’ve faced is poor goaltending. Though they waved Cory Schneider, they still have the second-worst team save percentage (SV%) and goals-against average (GAA) at .889 and 3.38, respectively.
The Devils asked 23-year-old goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood (who turned 23 just six days after Hynes’ firing) to shoulder too much of the load, and his .904 SV% and 3.00 GAA entering Thursday proved their error. But on Thursday against the Philadephia Flyers, the young netminder gave probably the best performance of his burgeoning career.
The Flyers peppered Blackwood with shots, increasing the temperature every period. They ended the game with 46 total shots, including six on the power play and five shorthanded, but Blackwood remained impervious. His 46 saves ranks second-most amongst shutouts this season, trailing only Carter Hutton of the Buffalo Sabres’ 47-save effort against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 17.
Metrics show exactly how impressive Blackwood’s performance is. The Flyers posted 15 high danger chances and 3.33 expected goals (xG), and even controlled 69.81 percent of the play according to Corsi for percentage (CF%). Still, Blackwood held the line.
As Elliotte Friedman reported in January after Shero’s firing, Blackwood looks to be the real deal but appeared to be in over his head. With a few more performances like he gave Thursday, that won’t be the case anymore, and the Devils will clearly have their goalie of the future. As an added bonus, Blackwood also collected his first career point in the game, providing the lone assist on Damon Severson’s second-period power play goal.
Vasilevskiy Makes History
Vasilevskiy has been good enough for the Tampa Bay Lightning to give them no regrets about moving on from Ben Bishop, and today, both are clearly among the best starters in the NHL. But on Thursday, the Russian goaltender made a special kind of history against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Vasilevskiy made 29 saves en route to a 4-2 Lightning victory. But that victory brought Vasilevskiy’s record in his last 17 games to an incredible 15-0-2. With that, he set the record for the Lightning’s longest point streak by a goalie. His last start without the team recording a point was on Dec. 14 against the Washington Capitals. Young Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev spoke after the game about just how good his goalie is.
Obviously he’s the best goalie in the world in my opinion. But he works so hard on it every practice, and he makes those saves in practice. That’s why he’s making them in the game. And he’s great for us.Mikhail Sergachev talks about goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy
Vasilevskiy now leads the NHL with 28 wins, and his phenomenal numbers have him on the inside track towards back-to-back Vezina Trophies. Sergachev may be right: he just might be the best goalie in the world.
Jonas Johansson’s First Start
You never forget your first, and for one goalie, tonight was his first NHL start. The Buffalo Sabres selected Jonas Johansson out of Sweden with the 61st pick in the 2014 Draft, but he didn’t arrive at the NHL until recently. Trying to ease him into the league, the Sabres gave him his first start against the helpless Detroit Red Wings, who entered the evening winless in nine games.
Unfortunately for Johansson, things didn’t quite go as planned. He allowed two goals in the first period (both to Dylan Larkin) before stabilizing a bit. A final-minute Evan Rodrigues equalizer gave the Sabres a point, but the Red Wings earned their first win in 10 games in the shootout. Even if it wasn’t the result he hoped for, a first NHL start is still a memory any goalie will cherish forever. Congratulations, Jonas!
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Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.