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Devils Goaltender Akira Schmid Should be Starter Moving Forward



New Jersey Devils
Credit: James Nichols/NJDHockeyNow

The New Jersey Devils have some serious issues in net. Devils goaltender, Vitek Vanecek is quite literally leaking goals. He’s been given enough of a sample size this season to prove himself. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. As a result, Devils goaltender Akira Schmid should be the starter moving forward.

This time last season, Vanecek registered a .923 SV% and 2.12 GAA, collecting 11 wins and a shutout in the process. However, those numbers have taken a nose dive off the highest cliff this season as Vanecek’s sitting at a .879 SV% and 3.49 GAA.

Of the 76 goaltenders that have played at least one game this season, Vanecek is fifth worst in goals saved above expected at -6.6 goals, according to MoneyPuck.

Tuesday night’s performance against the New York Islanders was bad. Vanecek gave up four goals in just over 30 minutes of play. Certainly, he could have made life a little easier on the Devils, but instead recorded a -1.1 GSAx instead. The Devils still got the win, but it could have come a little more easily than it did, and might not have happened if Vanecek wasn’t pulled from the game.

Granted, the Devils’ defense has been much like Swiss cheese. There are certainly some holes in it.

That’s something the players in the locker room have recognized.

“That’s kind of been the consistent story we’ve talked about, our woes in the defensive zone,” Curtis Lazar explained. “Again, we’ve got to clean up and be better (in front of him). He’s a competitor. Obviously, he’s a good teammate. Schmid did a great job coming in relief, but that one’s on us.”

But, at some point, New Jersey is going to need their goaltender to steal a win for them. As of now, that’s certainly not going to come from Vanecek who seemingly has lost his confidence.

Schmid’s sample has been smaller, yet a lot better than Vanecek’s. The Swiss goaltender now has a .950 SV% in relief appearances in his career. Despite his similarly sub .900 SV% (.896), Schmid’s begun to put his game together more in his last six starts. In the stretch, the Devils goaltender has accrued a .917 SV% and 2.40 GAA. If you remove his one blunder against the Winnipeg Jets in which he gave up five goals, four of five of Schmid’s appearances have ended in a .929 SV% or better.

Confidence in New Jersey’s net appears to be thinning. Head coach Lindy Ruff recognizes the defense hasn’t exactly eliminated high-danger chances the way they used to. However, Ruff also recognized that the Devils will occasionally need some help by getting a save.

“I think we’re always concerned with what the numbers are and where they’re at,” Ruff explained. “Our job as coaches is to try to eliminate some of the high-quality opportunities. You can get great saves on some of those opportunities or you don’t get saves on those opportunities. But I’d like to first clean up the opportunities on some of the stuff that allowed them the grade A opportunities too. I mean you look at the (Barzal goal), again, we didn’t handle the puck well inside the zone and gave it back to them and he’s got to break away. A breakaway is not a bad goal. We would love to get a save, but it’s not a bad goal. We’re going to continue to grind and get our game in a better place defensively. Shots are going down, that’s a good thing. High-quality opportunities still have to go down.”

It’s true that the defense needs to step up. We’ve seen the deficits in Dougie Hamilton’s game. Even defensive stalwart John Marino has had his blunders. But that doesn’t mask the fact that Vanecek hasn’t given New Jersey the best opportunity to win on a consistent basis.

It’s been a 60/40 start split between Vanecek and Schmid thus far in favor of the former. However, it’s time to give the load to Schmid who has been giving the Devils the best chance to win hockey games. In the meantime, general manager Tom Fitzgerald should continue conducting his search to upgrade the goaltending.

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