Predictable problem spots proving costly for New Jersey Devils
The Devils are feeling the brunt of poor goaltending, injury regression, and the departures of several key penalty killers.
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The New Jersey Devils were widely considered one of the better teams in the league heading into the season. I still think they are.
With that said, there were a few problem spots I saw as likely to hinder them in their quest to win the Metro Division and compete for the Stanley Cup.
Each one has been very evident over the course of their disappointing 7-6-1 start.
Death, taxes, and goaltending issues in New Jersey. The position has mostly haunted the team since the Martin Brodeur days came to an end.
Given the cost of acquisition for name brand goaltenders, and the variance of the position, I thought it was more than defensible for GM Tom Fitzgerald to stick with cheapies Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid this season.
I also noted giving that tandem another shot could be justified yet still not work out.
The tandem of Vitek Vanecek and (eventually) Akira Schmid was very good much of last season. The tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid may not be good enough next year. Both things can be true.
Vanecek stopped ~13 goals above expected in his debut season with the Devils. That’s a very strong number and directly in line with that of Connor Hellebuyck the two seasons prior to last.
It was also a career best – Vanecek finished with a negative GSAx in 2020-21 and 2021-22 – and it may be ignorant to believe that’ll become the norm.
If Vanecek is going to take a step back during regular season hockey, and there are concerns with his playoff history, then a lot of weight is suddenly falling on the shoulders of Schmid.
Realistically speaking, things couldn’t have played out worse in goal thus far.
Of 53 goaltenders to play at least 250 minutes this season, only two own a lower high-danger save percentage than Vanecek: Jack Campbell and Joey Daccord.
One is now an AHLer while the other is a career AHLer likely to head right back given his current play.
High-danger shots have been an area of weakness for Vanecek for the entirety of his Devils career. Unfortunately, he’s not making any saves at a high clip right now.
Regression was always a possibility for Vanecek. I’m not sure even in the worst case scenario anyone envisioned him allowing more goals above expected per start than at any point in his career. He has played in 10 games and is already within striking distance of a new low in GSAx.
The Devils are reluctantly putting more on Schmid’s plate as a byproduct of Vanecek’s struggles. The results are not great.
Although Schmid has looked solid at times, an .885 SV% and negative goals saved above expected output is not good enough for a team with Cup aspirations.
Injury luck regression
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