New Jersey Devils: Mackenzie Blackwood’s Season Is Better Than Numbers Suggest

(Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

On Thursday night, the New Jersey Devils lost an exciting—but demoralizing—bout against the New York Rangers. Although New Jersey outshot the Rangers 49-37, their lackluster penalty kill (went three-for-five), ongoing trend of opponents scoring early in the period or answering right back after a Devils goal and crippling defensive breakdowns ultimately did the Devils in and extended their winless streak to three games.

One of the game’s main stories were the purported struggles of goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who was pulled at the end of the second period after surrendering five goals on 25 shots. The 23 year old received a lot of scrutiny from New Jersey Devils fans, with many on social media not only quick to blame him for the team’s loss, but viciously doubted his ability at being a legitimate NHL goaltender.

These emotionally driven reactions and assessments on Blackwood couldn’t be further from the truth.

At first glance, Blackwood’s 2019-20 numbers aren’t too appealing. He’s 14-12-6 with a 2.97 GAA and .905 SV%, none of which will turn heads. However, those are modestly impressive when you consider the team in front of him.

Since Cory Schneider’s last game on November 8th, Blackwood has played in 24 of the last 28 contests, clearly embracing the team’s starting goaltender role. Over that span, he’s gone 10-9-3 with a 2.90 GAA and .911 SV%. While by no means flashy, those numbers are slight improvements when compared to his overall performance.

To dispute Blackwood’s skeptics by showing how he’s thrived over the last two months—and is making a case for himself as a viable starter—it requires a deep delve into his numbers and identifying the distinctions in his play at five-on-five and on the penalty kill.

While the evidence that Blackwood has excelled this season is evident, the disparity in his play at five-on-five and the penalty kill are best reflected in certain statistics. The chart below ranks Blackwood’s numbers during five-on-five play (among goalies with at least 1000 minutes) and the penalty kill (among goalies with at least 100 minutes) in five categories that are indicative of a goaltender’s performance—high danger save percentage (HDSV%), expected save percentage (xSV%), save percentage (SV%), delta/adjusted save percentage (dSV%) and goals saved above average (GSAA). You can click here for elaborated explanations on these statistics.


-Data courtesy of and

Although Blackwood’s five-on-five play has been superb this season, the chart above documents his struggles on the penalty kill, which have been a glaring detriment to his seasonal totals.

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This is best reflected in the differences between Blackwood’s regular and high-danger save percentages at five-on-five and on the penalty kill. This season, Blackwood’s 5v5 high danger save percentage of .853 ranks fifth among goaltenders with at least 1000 minutes played, whereas his .586 save percentage for high danger chances on the penalty kill is 32nd among goaltenders with at least 100 PK minutes played.

Granted it only ranks 14th among goalies with at least 1000 minutes played, Blackwood’s overall five-on-five save percentage of .920 is largely rendered above average for goaltenders. His overall save percentage on the penalty kill of .840 however, ranks 27th among goaltenders with at least 100 PK minutes played.

Despite not being reflected on the above charts, the strongest indicator of Blackwood’s tremendous forward strides this season is how he’s performed five-on-five since assuming the starting role in net. Since November 9, Blackwood’s five-on-five save percentage of .929 leads all NHL goaltenders with at least 1000 minutes played. In addition, he also has the league’s second-highest five-on-five high danger save percentage (.878).

That’s quite impressive for a goaltender many fans were quick to dismiss after one bad performance that primarily wasn’t his fault.

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Blackwood’s lackluster play on the penalty kill is concerning, but largely reflects how the Devils have struggled when down a man this season. The chart below will point out the correlation between the team and Blackwood’s PK struggles. It also shows substantial evidence of improvement in this area over the last two months. It will compare the team’s save percentages in general (SCSV%) and high-danger (HDSV%) scoring chances overall this season and since November 9th (at five-on-five and on the penalty kill).

StatSeasonRankSince 11/9Rank
HDSV% (5v5).81821.8516
SCSV% (5v5).85026.87412
HDSV% (PK).63630.67825
SCSV% (PK).76728.77922

-Data courtesy of and

In addition to the data above, the Devils currently rank 19th among NHL teams on the penalty kill (79.9%), however since November 9th, they’ve had the sixth-best penalty kill (83.3%)—additional evidence of the aforementioned improvement in this particular category. Yes, Blackwood has struggled immensely when the Devils are a man down and there is still much work to be done, but the numbers clearly show the team has made notable improvements since Blackwood has been their go-to guy in net.

Given these numbers, it’s easy to refute claims questioning Blackwood’s legitimacy as a genuine goaltender this season. At only 23 years of age and in his first full NHL campaign, he’s making considerable progress and has an entire second-half to build on the momentum he’s aggregated over the past two months.

Yes, Blackwood’s raw numbers aren’t quite flashy, but they don’t tell the entire story behind his encouraging play, which ultimately should make New Jersey Devils fans very hopeful about the young netminder’s future.