The New Jersey Devils just had their biggest win of the season, beating the New York Islanders 5-4. They went into the third period down 4-2 after a few mistakes by the defense and Vitek Vanecek led to goals. The effort was poor from top to bottom, but something changed when the Devils replaced Vanecek with Akira Schmid.
The Devils offense turned it on in the third, scoring three goals while keeping the Islanders off the board. This is despite the Islanders getting two power plays. It was a completely different team in the third. This looked like the 2022-23 Devils for the first time all season. Jack Hughes looked flighty, which is ahead of schedule after his shoulder injury. Nico Hischier scored an incredibly clutch goal by being in the perfect position. Luke Hughes looks like the Devils’ best defenseman. Lindy Ruff hit the right note by playing the fourth line late, and Curtis Lazar beat Ilya Sorokin for the game-winning goal.
It all starts with Akira Schmid. He hasn’t been great this season, but he’s undoubtedly been better than Vanecek. Schmid stopped all eight shots against him on Tuesday night. Vanecek only stopped 14 of the 18 shots against him. The advanced stats show Vanecek should have allowed either two or three goals, but he allowed four. He faced 10 high-danger shots, while Schmid only faced one. The Devils were attacking, so Schmid’s load was lighter, but he still had the better performance.
However, it’s more than just Tuesday night. In every game, Vanecek is struggling. On Saturday night, with the Devils destroying the Buffalo Sabres, the defense dominated. They only allowed 12 shots and one expected goal. Vanecek still let in two. Schmid on Friday night faced 28 shots and over two expected goals, and he only allowed two.
The Devils need to ride Schmid for all its worth. Even if he puts up a dud on Thursday against the Flyers, he should still be the starter going into next week’s Western Canada road trip.
It’s pretty clear that Vanecek is not taking the Devils to their ultimate aspiration. He faltered in the playoffs last season, and he could never find his game this season. His .879 save percentage ranks 64th in the NHL, basically putting him as the worst backup by ranking alone (although there are technically worse ones around the league).
Schmid is this team’s best chance to get back into contention. He’s at least been average so far this season. There are rumors the Devils wanted to acquire someone to send him back to the Utica Comets, but right now, the Devils are best when Schmid is in net. That should be how it is for all of December.