New Jersey Devils: Mackenzie Blackwood Seems To Be All The Way Back

Mackenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mackenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils spent weeks floundering after a COVID-19 outbreak threw the season into a loop. The team looked like they could be one of the early surprises this season, but when the outbreak hit, all that hope went out the window. One of the main reasons for that lost hope was the fact that Mackenzie Blackwood went from Vezina candidate to below league average.

Blackwood’s save percentage was hovering around .900 and his goals-against average was north of 3.00 coming into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Sunday. He was supposed to start against the Penguins on Thursdays, but some kind of ailment kept him out of the game just minutes before puck drop. Luckily, it was a short-term injury that only kept him out for a few days, because he carried the Devils to an overtime victory on Sunday.

Blackwood stopped 35 shots and only allowed one goal to keep the Devils tied for most of the game. According to Natural Stack Trick, he stopped all nine high-danger shots against him at all strengths. It was the first time since January 16th (the second game of the season) where he had a save percentage north of .950.

Mackenzie Blackwood looks great again for the New Jersey Devils.

He was also the Devils best penalty killer. He stopped five shots when the Penguins had the man advantage, and he helped what has been an incredible penalty kill over the last two weeks play even better. If Blackwood can keep stopping shots at the clip that he’s stopping them, it will be hard to beat the Devils at any strength. As they say, the best penalty killer on the ice should be your goalie.

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Blackwood was downright awful for three-straight weeks. It was clear his COVID diagnosis was impacting him on the ice. Over his first eight games of the season, Blackwood had a save percentage under .900 once in a game, and it was .897 on February 20th. He was one of the best goalies in the NHL. Then, he turned into swiss cheese. Over the next six games, his save percentage ranged from .897 to .730. It was not a good look, and it kind of ruined his overall season numbers.

It’s a short season, so this rough stretch matched with multiple absences from the lineup spell doom for the Devils playoff chances. However, it’s huge to see Blackwood make a comeback like this. He’s all the way back after two-straight great performances. Holding a team that scores more than three goals per game to under one through regulation and overtime is mostly on the goalie. He really only allowed one fluke goal to Sidney Crosby.

Some might say it’s only two games, and one was against the lowly Buffalo Sabres, but the Devils clearly have their goalie all the way back. He’s moving from side to side with ease, finds his positioning at an elite level, and he’s stopping shots of all kinds from everywhere on the ice. This could lead to a lot of winning by the Devils at the end of the season, and could put a good taste in Devils’ fans mouths going into the offseason.