The NHL has been back for one week and goaltending has proven to be crucial to success. There is a big distinction in team performance so far when having a reliable netminder. Teams like the New Jersey Devils have gotten off to somewhat of a surprising start, while the Chicago Blackhawks are viable contenders to win the draft sweepstakes in 2021.
Both teams had a rebuilding status in the 2019-2020 season despite Chicago making the playoffs thanks to a play-in upset to the Edmonton Oilers. New Jersey was one of seven teams that were not involved in return-to-play hockey last year due to their poor record. So how come the Devils upset Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers while the Blackhawks have been mediocre at best through four games.
Chicago Parts Ways with Lehner and Crawford
Last season, Chicago had a surprisingly good tandem. Robin Lehner looked rejuvenated after working with the New York Islanders in 2018-2019. Also, Corey Crawford was a reliable backup to Lehner. However, Chicago was not in the position to compete for a cup, so they dealt Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights. Chicago played Crawford for the majority of the remaining games of the season due to a lack of goaltending depth.
During the offseason, Crawford was an unrestricted free agent who wished to resign with Chicago. Chicago refused to pay him, so he signed with the Devils. However, he never suited up for a game as a Devil since he ended up calling it a career.
Their goaltending departures have been concerning so far this season. Malcolm Subban allowed an embarrassing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their season opener. The lack of options in the net makes it very likely that Chicago misses the playoffs by a mile.
New Jersey’s Success Is Attributed to Blackwood
It was expected by numerous fans of the game that New Jersey would be the laughing stock of the East. However, in the toughest division in the NHL, the Devils are in the playoff picture. After a sub-par season last year, the Devils have been pretty good to this point. Their success is mainly due to Mackenzie Blackwood‘s performance.
Blackwood has limited high-caliber offenses to one even-strength goal through three games. In fact, Blackwood holds a .988 save percentage during five-on-five play this season. The extraordinary play in the goalie crease for New Jersey has allowed them to be competitive in games where other teams dominated. If Blackwood can continue putting up these numbers over the course of a full season, the Devils will contend.
Is Goaltending an X Factor?
There you have it, goaltending has been a make or break factor this season and definitely dictates how a team performs. Can Chicago solve their goalie crisis? Can Blackwood continue his out-of-this-world performance? Leave your thoughts in the comment section down below.