New Jersey Devils: Is Vitek Vanecek Officially A Problem?

New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) before the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) before the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils lost on Tuesday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Vitek Vanecek made it a habit of bailing out his team this season, that hasn’t been the case as of late.

The New Jersey Devils have been dealing with goalie issues since Cory Schneider’s hip ruined the end of his career. Since then, they put their faith in Keith Kinkaid, Eddie Lack, Louie Domingue, Gilles Senn, Jon Gillies, Andrew Hammond, Corey Crawford, Scott Wedgewood, Aaron Dell, Jonathan Bernier, and Mackenzie Blackwood to stop the bleeding. As one can see, it’s been awful to watch the goaltending in New Jersey since Schneider lost his ability.

That changed this season. With Bernier likely to miss the entire season with a hip injury, GM Tom Fitzgerald traded better positioning in the second round along with a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft for Vitek Vanecek. The Washington Capitals were looking to revamp the position, and they ended up cutting Ilya Samsonov completely (who ended up beating the Devils on Tuesday night).

It looked like another genius move by Fitzgerald. Only Linus Ullmark and Andrei Vasilevskiy have more wins this season than Vanecek. He’s a main cog in this New Jersey Devils train that has them as one of the best teams in the NHL. After some dreadful goaltending, Vanecek gives the Devils someone they can trust.

That is, until recently. The Devils are not getting the shutdown goaltending they’ve become accustomed to. In fact, Vanecek’s season-long numbers are starting to suffer from his current stretch. While his .917 save percentage at 5v5 is pretty decent, his .802 save percentage on high-danger shots is putrid. Only ten goalies in the entire league have a worse number (minimum 600 minutes played). It’s even worse when looking at high-danger goals saved above average (-6.40). The average goalie is six goals better against hard shots than Vanecek.

Over the past month, Vanecek’s high-danger save percentage is just .722. His 5v5 save percentage is awful, just .878. There’s clearly something going wrong here.

It’s obvious that the workload is getting to Vanecek. He’s still stopping the easy shots. That comes with instincts. However, the intense chances are getting by him.

Vanecek is going to tie his career high in games played and pass his career high in minutes played in his next full game. The Devils have been forced to rely heavily on Vanecek this season. Mackenzie Blackwood can’t stay healthy, and Akira Schmid is too young to take a full backup role. Schmid has played well, so the Devils should use him more often down the stretch.

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Vanecek is having a rough stretch, but if Lindy Ruff is delicate with him over the next 19 games, he can get his game back. He’s allowed four goals or more in four of his last five games. It’s time for him to take some time to reset. Blackwood is not ready to return from injury, so it’s up to Schmid to pick up the slack. At this point, everything has to be focused on the playoffs. What’s best for the playoffs is a well-rested Vanecek.