The Devils clearly have a lot of issues this season but the biggest (er, well tied for biggest) is the inconsistency in goaltending. With three options (now that Schneider is back off IR), it’s the biggest decision in New Jersey.
Keith Kinkaid stepped up in the 2017-18 season for an injured Cory Schneider, to help the team make a playoff push. He looked sound and strong in the crease, making big saves and keeping the Devils in the game. Those playoff hopes were crushed early, as the Devils lost in the first round to the Lightning in 5 games. Nonetheless, that playoff birth reinvigorated the fans and the players and hopes were high coming into the 2018-19 season. The Devils started off strong, but that faded quickly.
The Devils were struggling after their four game win streak to start the season. Blame could be placed in many areas, but one of the main ones is goaltending. Kinkaid was struggling. When Schneider got the chance to start, it was bordering on embarrassing. He just could not seem to find his legs or his game. However, it was not 100% Schneider’s fault as every time he got the start, the Devils defense imploded on themselves. Yes, some goals should have been saved but some were out of his control.
Schneider became injured again, then comes the call up from the Binghamton Devils in the form of Mackenzie Blackwood and boy, what a call up he was. Despite his first two tastes of the NHL going against him, he instantly became a fan favorite, making incredible saves against tough teams. His third NHL start got him his first NHL shutout and he was named the NHL Star of the Week. Blackwood was out for a bit with a lower body injury, but quickly returned and remained consistent. In fact, Blackwood is the Devils most consistent goalie this season, having only been on the NHL roster since December.
Yesterday, the Devils announced that Blackwood had been sent back to Binghamton and Schneider had been moved back to the NHL (he’s been on a conditioning stint in Binghamton). Twitter imploded. It’s expected that Schneider will get the start in at least one of the upcoming home games. The way he’s been playing both in Binghamton and in the NHL has been unsteady, but he definitely needs to get his confidence back if he has any hopes of getting back to the level he once was at.
Kinkaid is the weak link in this triple chain. Blackwood has the potential to be a star goalie (and he wears 29, but that’s a different conversation). Schneider has proven to be a solid goalie as well, but his injuries have really hindered that. If he can get healthy and confidence back, he could shine. Kinkaid is a backup goalie, at best. He still has trade value and the Devils need to capitalize on that while they still can.
Photos: Alicia Strauch; Paul Bereswill/Getty Images; Jim McIssac/Getty Images; Bruce Bennett/Getty Images