The New Jersey Devils lost a heartbreaker to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night in overtime. The Devils really fought after going down 3-1 to tie the game in the third period. They even took the lead, but a replay review found Simon Nemec was offsides before Mike McLeod scored his goal. It should have been a banner night, as the Devils could have jumped the Lightning for a playoff spot. Instead, they are once again on the outside looking in.
We could blame the injuries, the lack of execution on defense, the drop off in coaching, or any number of issues plaguing this Devils roster. However, one thing is more to blame than anything. Vitek Vanecek is the worst goalie in the NHL.
There's really no denying it at this point. Every stat shows he's the worst. His .882 is the worst of any goalie who's played at least 20 games this season. His goals saved above average is -13.42. That beats Ilya Samsonov for worst in the league.
Vanecek is having a terrible season. That's not news. But let's break it down. Why is Vanecek the reason the Devils are losing games?
If Vanecek had a .900 save percentage, that would mean he saved 12 more goals than he did. That doesn't sound like a ton, but that's one more goal every other game. And .900 is not a good save percentage! If he matched his .911 from last season, it would be 19 more goals saved. A .900 save percentage could have won the Devils the Canucks game, the Flyers overtime loss, the devastating Rangers game, and the Panthers game.
What's crazy is Vanecek has a pretty good record. He's 14-7-2. That is insane for a player with the worst stats in the league. How is he 14-7-2? And if he was just a normal bad goalie, not a devastatingly bad goalie, he could have three or four more wins. Yet, for some reason, he keeps getting starts, and it's likely because of his record. Lindy Ruff needs to start looking at the results instead.
The Devils are entrenched in an insane Wild Card race. Right now, the Devils are the last team out in terms of just standings points. However, they do take that last WC spot when it comes to point percentage. Despite the terrible goaltending, the Devils are technically in a playoff spot. Pretty much everyone they are chasing have played more games. However, the Devils have to win those games, and it's hard to believe they can with this goaltending.
We like Nico Daws, but the reality is he's coming off a hip injury. The Devils are deploying him strangely, constantly giving him harder matchups. He'll get another hard matchup with the red-hot Florida Panthers this weekend. Yet, here is Vanecek, getting chance after chance despite being the worst goalie in the NHL.
Think about it this way: Jon Gillies had a better save percentage in 2021-22. Mackenzie Blackwood had never had a save percentage this bad. Neither had Cory Schneider with one hip intact. Vanecek is the worst starter the Devils have had maybe ever.
The goalie market is still insane. Until someone finally breaks the bank and makes the first move, don't expect Tom Fitzgerald to trade for a goalie. He will never be the first one to overpay. Yet, by the time he finally does pull the trigger (and one will eventually happen), it could be too late.