The New Jersey Devils are making a lot of mistakes, particularly defensive mistakes, but to write the Devils off entirely is a mistake in itself. The Devils are in third place in the Metropolitan Division (the Carolina Hurricanes are one point ahead but have played one more game). It’s still early in the season, but as it gets later, the team’s strengths and weaknesses have become clear.
The Devils have one of the best top-nine forward groups in the NHL. When all are healthy, they have a lethal power play. They have two of the top centers in the NHL. They have talent on the blueline, it just hasn’t fully clicked yet this year. They have one of the best offensive defensemen in the league. They have one of the most talked about rookies in the NHL. Even with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier out with injuries, the Devils are not in panic mode, nor should they be. However, there are things that need to change and improve.
Keeping the Puck Out of the Net
With 44 goals against this season, the Devils are tied for the fifth-most goals allowed in the NHL according to StatMuse. They’re averaging 3.67 goals against per game, which is fourth-most in the league. The only teams who allow more goals per game are the San Jose Sharks, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Minnesota Wild. Considering the records of the Sharks and Oilers, it’s remarkable that the Devils have won seven games while allowing so many goals.
Goaltender Vitek Vanecek has been a mixed bag for the Devils so far this season. His .893 SV% is subpar. His 3.29 GAA is inferior to his career average of 2.63 GAA. Yet, he’s 6-3 this season. He’s had some poor performances early, but he’s also had standout performances and moments when he’s really bailed out his team’s struggling defense. His unbelievable highlight reel-worthy save on Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks could end up being his best save of the year.
Akira Schmid has only seen a few opportunities in goal so far this season, but his starts have also seen mixed results. In four starts, he’s 1-1-1 and was pulled once. His .887 SV% and a 3.51 GAA are obviously not great. Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but the Devils need more consistency from their goalies. If they can’t get there over the next month, it might be time to make a trade. Schmid can spend some time in Utica, which is something Tom Fitzgerald is considering.