Extra Pressure Has Been Added Onto Mackenzie Blackwood

Mackenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils warms up before the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on January 06, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Mackenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils warms up before the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on January 06, 2022 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

One of the biggest x-factors going into the season for the New Jersey Devils was their goaltending. It was a major concern last year since they used seven different goalies during that span. Coming into this season, all eyes were on Mackenzie Blackwood since he was coming off of an ankle injury and is also a pending restricted free agent. Despite getting off to a respectable start, Blackwood got hurt during the Devils’ first matchup against the Edmonton Oilers on November 3rd. He suffered an MCL sprain and was sidelined for several weeks. During his absence, Vitek Vanecek was given the starting goalie role.

So far this season, Vanecek has a record of 12-4-2, a goal against average of 2.41, and a save percentage of .909. Up to this point of the season, it’s safe to say that Vanecek has exceeded expectations despite his recent struggles. Once Blackwood returned from injury, there was a great amount of speculation that Blackwood would become the backup to Vanecek, or maybe even be waived due to Akira Schmid also stepping up his performance. However, those rumors were put to rest once Blackwood was chosen to start in the Devils’ two recent games against the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins.

Blackwood’s showing against the Panthers was phenomenal, however, he had a lackluster performance against the Bruins, especially in the second period. When looking at the standings for the Atlantic Division, the Panthers are third last whereas the Bruins sit in the first position. So, giving Blackwood the start against the Panthers is understandable, however, him starting against the Bruins just seemed like the wrong strategy. Because Vanecek should’ve gotten the start due to him having more in-game reps and also having better numbers compared to Blackwood. People were left wondering if Blackwood regained his starting position. I had the chance to speak with head coach Lindy Ruff postgame after the Devils’ 4-3 loss against the Bruins and asked him how Blackwood and Vanecek will be utilized going forward.

“It’ll be something that we discuss,” Ruff said. “I’m trying to put a schedule together and our goaltending will be the first thing we talk about.”

Given how inconsistent Blackwood can be at times, I asked him if there’s any extra pressure on him given how well Vancek and Schmid have performed this season.

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“Obviously, in every game, you want to play your best,” Blackwood said. “If you put too much noise around the game, then you overcomplicate it. You go out there and you try to do your best. You try to make as many saves as you can, then play the best game that you can in that crease. At the end of the night, you look back on it, analyze it, then go to sleep, wake up, and then try to fix whatever you can. Or just keep doing the things that you did right. If you look at it that way, then no you don’t put extra pressure on yourself. You just strive to be better every day.”

Check out my full analysis on a recent episode of Locked On Devils:

Clearly, Blackwood doesn’t want to add any more pressure onto his shoulders and also doesn’t seem interested in “friendly competition” between himself, Vanecek, and Schmid. However, if the Devils know what’s best for them, then they need to utilize Vancecek as their starter and have Blackwood as the backup. If he continues to demonstrate inconsistency, then maybe trading away a pending RFA isn’t the worst idea in the world. But the pressure for Blackwood to perform above expectations has to be felt on his end.