Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, New Jersey Devils fans.
"When Corey Crawford shocked the hockey world by announcing his retirement mere weeks after signing a two-year, $7.8 million contract with the New Jersey Devils, it put the franchise into crisis.Sure, the team still had MacKenzie Blackwood, who is one of the most exciting young netminders in hockey but in the NHL – especially in 2020-21 – you can’t win with only one guy in net.No, even the best teams need to find a way to secure 7-8 wins a season from someone other than their goaltender numero uno, and with Crawford gone, it’s really hard to see how that happens now.Who knows, maybe a player like Aaron Dell will become available via waivers. Maybe a player on a PTO, like our old friend Cory Schneider, won’t have their contract picked up and the Devils can swing in and procure his services on the cheap – even if it looks pretty darn embarrassing.But whatever the case, if the Devils head into the regular season with just Scott Wedgewood backing up Big Mac, GM Tom Fitzgerald is just asking for trouble."
Sound familiar? Heck, I feel like I’ve written some iteration of those words so many times that I’m low-key worried I may have plagiarized myself. But for many fans of the Devs – and the NHL as a whole – the sentiment range true.
Wedgewood – and original draftee of the Lou Lamoriello back in 2010 – hadn’t played an NHL game since 2018, and 28-years-old wasn’t going to suddenly become more than a fringe two-three netminder anytime soon. While all internal signs pointed to Wedgewood having a very good training camp playing the Bucky to Mac’s Captain America, should we expect anything less?
Surely the Devils aren’t going to say Wedgie – as his teammates call him – outright stinks, and the team is screwed, right?
Well, as it turns out, Scott Wedgewood very much doesn’t outright stink, as was fully evident in the New Jersey Devils’ shutout win over the New York Islanders.
Maybe the New Jersey Devils didn’t need Aaron Dell after all?
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When MacKenzie Blackwood was placed on the COVID-19 list mere hours before the New Jersey Devils’ two-game away and home series against the New York Islanders, it felt like a crushing blow to an incredibly promising start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Despite trying as hard as possible to keep expectations are reasonable as possible, Devils fans the world over – myself included – started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Lindy Ruff‘s squad was closer to being a playoff contender than many initially expected.
Sure, their offensive firepower is/was/will continue to be a work in progress until Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Sami Vatanen actually take the ice, but the Devils are playing a fun, fast brand of two-way hockey that at times looks incredible and should become more consistently so with each passing game. Throw in that midseason cavalry – and maybe even a deadline-skirting trade if the perfect opportunity presents itself – and the Devils should be able to hold their own against teams like the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitols – all of which have proven themselves beatable through the first two weeks of the season.
Well, if Scott Wedgewood keeps playing like he did against the New York Islanders, they very well might be of that caliber.
After giving up four goals in his season debut on a few hours’ notice, expectations weren’t particularly high for Wedgewood when he took the ice for the Devils in their second straight game against the Islanders. Clearly, the Devils needed to shake things up to avoid going on their first losing streak of the season, but with Blackwood out, waiver claim Aaron Dell still not with the team, and Ruff clearly content with the third-line pairing of Ty Smith (good) and Matt Tennyson (eh) what could the team really do? Putting Janne Kuokkanen on the second line, Andreas Johnsson on the fourth, and swapping out Jesper Boqvist for Nick Merkley wasn’t going to keep the puck out of the net – let alone get a few more into the opponents’.
Well, as it turns out, all Wedgie needed was some good old fashioned Garden State home cooking – Taylor Ham for breakfast with some White Castle sliders for lunch? – and suddenly, he’s the second coming of Jaroslav Halak. Hmm… that crisp Newark air must do a goalie wonders.
All kidding aside, the Devils couldn’t have asked for a better performance from Wedgewood in his second start since February of 2018. He kept his eye on the prize, moved well in net, and didn’t pull a Carter Hart when taking the puck out from behind the net.
In the first period with all things tied up at zero, Wedgewood stopped five shots during a two-minute penalty kill brought on by a two-minute high sticking call on Damon Severson and followed it up with another four-save sequence midway through the third.
While things did get a tad testy in the final two minutes of the game, as the win and shutout were firmly within reach and everyone knew it, Wedgie ultimately came out of the game unscathed – earning a shiny gold star for his efforts all on his mother’s birthday.
Huh, maybe the Devils actually didn’t need Dell after all, as Wedgewood looks like a more than capable backup that Fitzgerald would surely like to lock up well past the 2020-21 NHL season.
So Momma Wedgewood, allow me to wish you a belated Happy Birthday, though I’m sure Scott gave you the best gift you could ask for with a perfect 28 save performance over the New York Islanders at The Rock.