The New Jersey Devils went into the Christmas Break trying to keep pace with the rest of the Metropolitan Division. It didn't go down like Devils fans had hoped. This team is outside the playoffs as we head into the New Year, and even a few good weeks won't be enough to flip the script. It's been a rough season, but there are still 50 games left.
The Devils have the pieces to get better. The defense will get better as Kevin Bahl, Luke Hughes, and Simon Nemec get more games under their belt. Also, Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino should progress to the mean after a very bad start. However, what can we expect out of Vitek Vanecek?
Vanecek has been one of the worst goalies in the league by any metric. There have been 82 goalies who have appeared in an NHL game this season, Vanecek's .884 save percentage is one of the ten worst in the league. His -9.68 goals saved above average at all strengths is sixth worst in the league according to Natural Stat Trick. The Devils are losing games because of Vanecek. He's not the only problem, but he's a major problem.
Can the Devils fix Vitek Vanecek?
The question is loaded. The Devils would love to "fix" Vitek Vanecek, but his issues are more than meets the eye. It would be lovely if Vanecek needed better positioning or he could do better on high-danger chances or power-play chances, that could be fixed. The issue is Vanecek's normal issues are getting worse, and it seems to be between his ears.
He is almost franctic in net. Let's ignore the issues with rebound control (which we will get to later). Vanecek is making large movements for easy saves. He is jumping on expected passes, and he is constantly out of position. It's one thing to be in the wrong position, but it's a much more concerning problem when a goalie is putting himself out of position.
Vanecek has to fix that on his own. He has to change the way he reacts. Every save seems like life or death this season. There are some positive aspects to that approach, but it's too short sighted. Making a life-or-death save takes a goalie out of position. It's fine if it's a desperation attempt to stop a shot from a high-danger area. However, that can't be how a goalie approaches every shot.
When it comes to rebound control. Vanecek can't be better than anyone in the league. Simple saves turn into prime opportunities, and the other team often puts them in the back of the net. You can even see teams are changing their strategies against the Devils. They shoot the puck low and hope for a rebound. Very often, they get it.
So, the big question is "can the Devils fix Vanecek?". Well, the simple answer is no. Vanecek has to fix Vanecek. He has to change how he reacts. Can he do it? Theoretically, yes. Let's see if it actually happens.