The New Jersey Devils finally got back into the win column on Friday night, beating the New York Islanders 5-4 in overtime. Of course, Jack Hughes’ beautiful goal was huge in winning. The Islanders scared the Devils with a game-tying goal with less than two minutes left in the game. Akira Schmid was knocked over, and it allowed Bo Horvat to get the easy score.
After a start that isn’t up to everyone’s standards (even though a win next game puts them tied for first place), many are looking at what can be blamed.
The defense definitely hasn’t looked like it did last season. John Marino has had his struggles to start. Luke Hughes is making the mistakes we all pretty much expected. Brendan Smith has been in the lineup every game, and that’s gone as expected. They’ve given up 11 high-danger chances per 60 minutes at 5v5. That’s in the bottom half of the league.
Still, many fans are calling this team’s goalies out for their play. Schmid and Vitek Vanecek haven’t been great. Honestly, they aren’t “great” goalies. They don’t have to be on this team. We’re not expecting what would have been expected from Connor Hellebuyck here. However, a below .900 save percentage is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances.
It’s really early in the season to be looking at averages, including save percentage. Vanecek and Schmid both have two games under their belt. They rank 42nd and 44th in the league. Again, it’s very early to be looking at these numbers, but this is what Devils fans are talking about.
Despite the save percentage numbers, some numbers show they’ve faced an exceptional amount of shots and quality attempts. Schmid is fourth in the league in high-danger shot rates against. Vanecek isn’t facing the same volume, but he’s been asked to make some crazy saves.
Schmid and Vanecek have been asked to make the big saves. Very often, they do. They’ve been left all along to stop pucks, put in positions to slide on 2-on-1s, and they’ve seen their share of breakaways. It doesn’t always work out, but it does more often than not.
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The Devils need to be patient with the defense. If they are going to continue with the Smith-Hughes pairing, there will be mistakes. If Marino doesn’t turn around his early struggles quickly, the Devils will have fewer chances to stop pucks on the penalty kill. We expect things to get better on defense with time. When that gets better, the goaltending will be less of a problem. For now, the Devils can still outscore their opponents, especially with Jack Hughes in beast mode.