In a Lost Season, the Devils May Have Found a Goalie of the Future


NEWARK — The Devils seemed to be a franchise on the rise after a shocking playoff berth final season. But aside from the glimpse of hope provided by the younger goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, 2018-19 shortly devolved into a misplaced season.

As they head into their bye week and the All-Star break, the Devils (18-23-7) have 43 factors, only one greater than the N.H.L.-worst Los Angeles Kings. The Devils’ 5 highway victories signify the fewest in the league. On Friday, the veteran Drew Stafford led a players-only assembly.

Injuries have taken their toll. The reigning most precious participant Taylor Hall has missed the final 13 video games with a lower-body damage and won’t play in the All-Star Game as a outcome. The absence of his playmaking potential has been felt.

“I think everybody in this room and in this organization has expected more this year,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy mentioned. “We have not been nearly good enough this first half of the season, and it’s definitely been a disappointment.”

Inferior goaltending has been a important motive the Devils have regressed in the standings. Entering Monday’s video games, they rank 29th out of the 31 groups in total save proportion (.892). It has put the franchise in unfamiliar territory, making an attempt to solidify the similar place as soon as held for greater than 20 years by the Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.

“Our goaltending hasn’t been, overall, what we needed it to be throughout the season,” Devils Coach John Hynes mentioned.

Blackwood, 22, although, has already proven No. 1 goalie potential, even when he has skilled some rising pains of late.

“It’s been surreal,” mentioned Blackwood, who has been dwelling at an extended-stay resort 15 minutes from Prudential Center. “But now, the challenge is to stay consistent. That’s what separates the good goalies from the bad. Can you do it every day, or are you just a flash in the pan?”

Blackwood started the season fourth on the organizational depth chart behind Keith Kinkaid, Cory Schneider and Eddie Lack. But accidents to Lack (season-ending hip surgical procedure) and Schneider (belly pressure) paved the manner for Blackwood’s promotion on Dec. 17. And Kinkaid’s struggles enabled Blackwood to make his N.H.L. debut in reduction a day later.

Blackwood proceeded to go on a tear from there, making 36 saves in his first profession begin on Dec. 20 after which 40 saves in his first profession win on Dec. 27. And on Dec. 29 and 31, Blackwood grew to become the first goalie in franchise historical past to file back-to-back shutouts.

But he was compelled to exit the Jan. Four sport as a result of of a lower-body damage and has not been as dominant since returning to motion, permitting 13 objectives in his final 4 begins mixed. Still, Blackwood’s .924 save proportion is a important improve in comparison with the workforce’s different netminders.

Schneider, previously a mannequin of consistency, has not received a regular-season sport since Dec. 27, 2017. Plagued by accidents, his confidence has been shaken. He continues to be owed $18 million over the subsequent three seasons. Kinkaid, in the meantime, has carried out extra like a backup than the starter that carried the workforce into the postseason. He might be an unrestricted free agent at season’s finish.

Devils General Manager Ray Shero, who has some robust choices to make at what he refers to as a “hard and volatile position,” is impressed with Blackwood’s early success, however not stunned by it.

“It’s not like we picked him up off a street corner,” Shero mentioned of the 2015 second-round choose.

Yet it was solely a yr in the past that Blackwood had been demoted from American Hockey League to the ECHL, his future with the group at a crossroads. But he managed to salvage his 2017-18 season, setting the stage for a return to the A.H.L., the place he excelled earlier than his promotion final month.

“You realize things are never as bad as they seem,” Blackwood mentioned of his demotion to the ECHL. “I could’ve went down there with a mind-set of ‘screw this’ or ‘poor me.’ But I was able to go down there, work hard and get myself back on track.”

Blackwood will play with the Devils’ A.H.L. affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., throughout the workforce’s bye week to remain sharp throughout the break.

Standing 6-foot-Four, Blackwood covers a lot of the internet. But he has additionally benefited from working with coaches Rollie Melanson and Scott Clemmensen on simplifying his method.

“For me, the biggest thing has been compacting my game, playing a little deeper and letting the game come to me instead of trying to chase it,” Blackwood mentioned.

Blackwood stop hockey when he was 10. One of his pals persuaded him to return again a yr later, and the following season Blackwood volunteered to play goalie. He didn’t start taking the sport significantly till he was 15.

A local of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Blackwood rooted for the Colorado Avalanche as a baby as a result of his father was a fan of Joe Sakic. The Devils, previously the Colorado Rockies, performed the Avalanche in the 2001 Stanley Cup finals.

“I was anti-Devils growing up,” Blackwood admitted with a chortle. “But now they’re my favorite team.”

Blackwood’s improvement is a key half of Shero’s plans. To the dismay of some Devils followers, Shero has maintained his workforce continues to be in rebuilding mode, even after its playoff run. He didn’t make any important additions in free company over the summer season.

Hynes obtained a multiyear extension as a method to keep continuity and reward a coach that enabled his workforce to overachieve in 2017-18.

“I really wanted somebody who can grow with the team,” Shero mentioned. “He’s got the respect of his players.”

Shero has been working to wash up the workforce’s wage cap scenario, get the roster youthful, add secondary scoring and extra constant protection, and bolster the farm system for practically 4 years. Hall is the greatest long-term query mark. He can change into a free agent in 2020, although he’s eligible for an eight-year most extension on July 1 this yr. Shero has not held extension talks with Hall and his agent but, however Shero mentioned protecting Hall was “something we’d love to do.”

Shero has a lot to consider, with the N.H.L. commerce deadline approaching on Feb. 25. Asked if he thought-about the Devils a purchaser or a vendor, Shero mentioned, “We’re looking for an opportunity to get better.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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